“5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic”, With Hope Zvara

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

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I think we need to understand why we are lonely. I find that we are more connected than ever, yet we are more alone than ever. We, humans, are social beings, we are meant to be in packs and be together. Slowly we are losing the skills to connect. Losing the connection of touch and worst yet, many now struggle with the emotion of empathy. Without empathy, how can we have true compassion. When you are lonely, having someone who can be compassionate to your situation, your feelings, your life can make all the difference. When you feel alone, you tend to shut yourself off from the rest of the word. It’s a cycle hard to get out of. It becomes even easier to hide behind devices, doors and filters and maybe never even show how you truly feel. I know that is exactly what I did for years. Too ashamed to let others in on how alone I really felt. This was difficult on top of having an eating disorder.

As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Hope Zvara. Hope is a motivational speaker and entrepreneur, specializing in the practice of yoga. She is the CEO and Co-Founder of Mother Trucker Yoga and has her own radio show on Chrome and Steel Radio called Daily Dose of Hope. She is also a board member for the International Institute of Holistic Health Education. Her personal experiences have led her to develop a unique message and technique that not only inspires people in a time of grief but helps them find the courage to move forward. Drawing from her experiences with bulimia and the death of her newborn daughter, Hope shares her tragedies to connect with people. She demonstrates how to cope with grief and find a way to heal and live purposefully. She has a true passion for connecting with people and helping them find value in their life. She’s a wife, mother, and a lover of life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

I was knee-deep in an eating disorder. Then I found yoga. I was working as a lifeguard at our local pool and one of my colleagues looked me one day and said, “you look like someone who would do yoga.” Something clicked in me and I went home that day and looked for a yoga class to take.

My Wednesday night yoga class became a weekly ritual of second chances and eventually that class led me to a yoga teacher training. I was going to college then dropped out after my first year and pursued a full-time career in teaching yoga.

Yoga was a blessing in my life, because I had the opportunity to help others and at the same time, help myself. I realized early on that my natural ability of writing and connecting came through like a dance on the yoga mat; guiding others through poses and sharing my own insights about life. It was on the mat teaching that I slowly began to open up about who I really was and discover my own struggles. It was then, that I realized, I wasn’t alone and others felt the same way.

Yoga was not only a life line for me. But I, at the same time, began to pave a life line for others. I eventually fully stepped into recovery gaining the strength to admit myself into an outpatient treatment. It was there again, that I noticed I was further along in my recovery than I thought. I had yoga to thank for that.

When my husband and I lost our daughter, yoga was there again to guide me through. I went back to the mat, as a teacher, connecting with others and that helped me through.

Yoga became a platform for me to expand myself. I opened up a yoga studio and developed my skills as a business owner. I wrote, established, and operated a state-approved vocational school for yoga, and then stepped into the online world as I became a #1 Best Selling Author. Now I’m a traveling speaker sharing my journey, lessons and what I call, my yoga tool box.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me in my career, up to this point, would definitely be how I started my new business venture- Mother Trucker Yoga. In November 2017, my husband took me to a local business mixer in our small country town in Wisconsin. I found myself standing at a table with a gentleman I had never met and never seen in our town. We started talking. I try pitching him corporate wellness to him for his trucking company. And he looks at me and says, “Do you have anything for truckers, in their actual truck”? And me, being an expressive and fun person, I look at him, throw up my arms and say: “Mother Trucker Yoga”.

He sticks out his hand and says: “Let’s do it.” That night I walked out with a new business and a partner. The next day he called me and four months later we launched a new company in the trucking arena.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Total disclosure, I was 21 when I first opened my yoga studio. I crunched the numbers and knew how many of my current students I would need to buy punch cards to open my doors and pay my monthly bills. My first year blew by and I was making it. I had expanded to adding on two other instructors and had a full schedule of 18 classes a week. Year one came and went, and then one day, I got a bill in the mail from our local gas company showing I owed well over a thousand dollars in charges. WHAT! Gas bill! I was paying my utilities bill every month. I don’t have those services. Well, guess what? I did and utilities only covered garbage, electric and water. I guess you can say, I wasn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed.

My biggest learning lesson is to ask. Ask others around you, like you, those who have come before you if there is anything you should know. What they do. What they don’t do. Ask for help. Ask for advice. Ask for input. I was so nervous to not do anything wrong. To be seen as not having it all together that in my earlier years it did hinder me. Luckily, that is why payment plans are for in my case.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes. I have several great projects in the works. But one of my biggest is I am rolling out both a business coaching program and a life and yoga group coaching program. I’ve been working on these for some time now and I’m excited to launch them! A big obstacle for many years has been my own perception of myself. I would always think I am not far enough along, or smart enough, or big enough to be an authority. What I have come to realize is that I have more life and business experience at 35, than many do twice my age. My challenges and successes are best shared and learned from then kept a secret.

These programs will help people because we are all struggling on some level. What makes what I offer unique is that I am sharing exactly what I did. The tools that worked for me. I have a unique ability to break things down and piece them apart to make sense to others. I know I was put on this earth to help, lead, inspire and guide others to never lose hope. To find joy and become the best versions of themselves possible. This is nearly 20 years of knowledge and experience put into these programs.

Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?

I spent almost half my life alone. Well, not alone exactly. I was surrounded by people, but was more alone that you could ever imagine. I was knee deep in an eating disorder and had closed myself off from others to the point where I was physically there, but emotionally void.

I felt as though no one really understood me and everyone was judging me. On the outside I was happy, friendly and outgoing. But on the inside I was scared, anxious and very alone. I was lonely for someone to get me. To understand me. I had graduated high school and tried the college thing. It was then that it occurred to me that I was really alone. I went to class and came home. I didn’t really have any friends. And then when I dropped out of college and eventually opened up my own yoga studio. Yes, yoga became my saving grace and really set a foundation for me to step into recovery. But as social as owning a yoga studio was, I never really had any friendships. I often envied students that cultivated long lasting friendships on the mat with other students, even my staff. Again, I felt alone. I realized I had a lot of internal and external work to do if I wanted to make a shift in my life. And to be honest, it took me years to work on. And in some ways I am still working on it. I, now work remotely as I closed my yoga studio in July of this year. I find myself yet again, very connected and yet at times lonely for more real friendships and actual social interaction.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

  1. We are social beings and we are meant to be in packs, families, and communities. We are hardwired to connect. But we as people desire to connect and support. The thing that makes us different from other species is that we’re meant to cultivate relationships. I believe loneliness is a learned behavior influenced by a specific event, trauma, or external factor (like technology) that we then adapt to our lives. This loneliness can hinder growth and openness to new ideas. We can easily become closed off to others and what they can offer us. The less interaction we have, the less we interact.
  2. Companionship and the company of others helps us live longer. It’s a fact.
  3. “People with strong social connections may live longer and healthier lives, according to numerous studies.” (Source: Harvard T.H Chan)
  4. Being alone and isolated for most is a recipe for an early death. There is a reason why things like adult daycares are a thing now. Laugh all you want, but activities like Bridge and Bingo should be taken more seriously than they probably are to younger adults. This is a means for companionship, relationships, and community. Older adults that don’t interact tend to not live as long as others. Not to mention the quality of life. I tell my mom all the time that if it ever comes to it, she can move in with us. Being alone, is well, lonely and slowly you begin to lose your purpose in life.
  5. When you isolate yourself from the world you begin to missout on experiences that help you build up a resilience to life. I realized early on in recovery as a young adult that I hid myself away for a big chunk of my life. Sure on many levels I was “there”, but I rarely shared my ideas, feelings and thoughts for fear of being judged. That fear kept me even more isolated and removed from life and my friends and family support. How does someone know to help you if you don’t let them in? I have experienced this first hand. And if I could go back I would have tried to be more brave and let others in. In return I may have built the necessary social skills I needed earlier in life as a young adult.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?

First, I think we need to understand why we are lonely. I find that we are more connected than ever, yet we are more alone than ever. We, humans, are social beings, we are meant to be in packs and be together. Slowly we are losing the skills to connect. Losing the connection of touch and worst yet, many now struggle with the emotion of empathy. Without empathy, how can we have true compassion. When you are lonely, having someone who can be compassionate to your situation, your feelings, your life can make all the difference. When you feel alone, you tend to shut yourself off from the rest of the word. It’s a cycle hard to get out of. It becomes even easier to hide behind devices, doors and filters and maybe never even show how you truly feel. I know that is exactly what I did for years. Too ashamed to let others in on how alone I really felt. This was difficult on top of having an eating disorder.

Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Put the phone down. Yes, you heard me. Put the phone down and talk to at least one real, live person every single day. I don’t care if it’s at the grocery store. Your husband. Your neighbor. Or your Uber driver. Talk to a real human, in person! I want you to look in their eyes. See their facial expressions. Smile with them, laugh with them, show empathy towards them. But don’t just talk to someone, talk with them.
  2. Pray. I don’t care what religion you follow, or if you don’t follow any. But the power of prayer can do wonders for the soul. To me, prayer opens up the dialogue of your soul and if you want to overcome the loneliness epidemic we need to get to the heart and soul of why we may be there in the first place.
  3. Smile, say hello and shake the hand of a stranger. Can’t do them all. Do one. In certain parts of the country it is noticeable that people in that area are, well, unhappy. Well, they may not all be unhappy, but they surely walk around with an angry look on their face. If you want to let someone in, you need to let them know they can come in. So smile at the person driving next to you on the highway. Smile at the little child in line behind you. Smile at yourself in the mirror and graciously receive that smile in return.
  4. Write down five people in your life right now that support you. Don’t think you have five? Then think back, who supported you in the past. If you are like me, doing so you may come to realize that you actually isolated yourself away from them, they never left you.
  5. Once you write those five people down. Choose one to reach out to and tell them how important they are in your life. If it’s been awhile, tell them why you want to reconnect. It has to start somewhere and with someone. Chances are it will be uncomfortable and even a bit awkward. But we need to start to reconnect in real ways.
  6. Organize an event or even a small party. Yes, invite anyone that comes to mind. I use to get inside my head and in my own way. I would tell myself that I was a nobody and no one would want to come to gatherings that I’ve planned. I would get so anxious about what I would talk about and how things would go that I would just shy away from things like this all together to avoid the personal discomfort. But I have come to realize that it’s all in my head, and I can’t get better at something unless I start to take that first step. OK, maybe not a party, but how about coffee with a friend and go from there?

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One small change. The power of one small simple change. As someone who has had to overcome and rise above unforeseen circumstances from addiction to child loss, to opening and running a business on a shoestring budget, and yet still manage to rise. All of those milestones and goals met happened because I stopped trying to do it all and be perfect. Instead I focused on one small simple change at a time.

The power of one step at a time. One breath at a time. One movement at a time. One goal at a time will get you where you want to go (almost always) faster every single time.

Dream big, my friend. Be smart and break it all down. Because we didn’t get to the moon by doing it all at once.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Rachel Hollis. She and I both have big dreams and goals and have shared similar struggles. I look to her often for encouragement and the funny thing is what she is saying is usually very similar to what I am sharing with my tribe. It is her boldness to be exactly who she is that reminds me daily to not shy away from who I am and what I like and choose to show up to life as. The best part, is she is doing this for her, and at the same time, doing it for everyone else.

She is a great example of why we humans thrive as a community!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram @hopezvara

Facebook @TheHOPEProcessByHopeZvara

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

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