Travel as much as you can. There are so many options, solo travel, retreats like I run, group activities. It’s a great equaliser because no one knows what your circumstances are back home. You are all having the same experience.
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 Lesley Benson, a life coach, international speaker and co-founder of Devas Being Divas. Lesley has worn many professional hats in her life. She was a pioneering dental hygienist for 33 years setting the international standard for working with HIV+ patients because she cared about their holistic wellness, not just their teeth. She has been a single mum and is now a proud member of the empty nesters’ club. She’s passionate about helping women create and design the life they know they deserve.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Lesley! 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?
Dental Hygienist to Life Coach isn’t that much of a leap. We see our patients for maintenance 3–4 times a year. You build trust over many years.
One the day, I walked into the dental office and was met with a pile of 22 phone calls to return, and when I did, not a single one was dental related but rather questions on life choices.
The switch became a natural progression.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Saying “yes” to simple things can lead to big life changes. A friend lives in Mexico and she invited her “global family”, as she calls us, to join her. The only trouble was, she was the only one who knew everyone. We all arrived independently but knew transportation had been organised.
So, as I walk out to arrivals there in front of me was a local Mexican man holding up a sign that read, “The ladies’ gathering”. Smiling to myself, I think only my friend would announce transportation like this. As I head towards him I notice this 4’11” woman heading the same way.
That’s how I met Fiona, my business partner, although I didn’t know it then. Two strangers sharing transportation and a room. Despite living on different continents we became firm friends. Thank goodness for those advances in technology.
Who would imagine that an issue that confronts so many empty nesters would find a solution through being invited to a birthday party in Mexico?
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?
We were on a retreat in the Tuscan Hills of Italy and the restaurant was across a field. It was light out when we headed out but I forgot it would be dark on the way back.
Thank goodness for torches on phones!
We were all walking across the fields and in the darkness, I slipped down the bank into the hedgerow where I disturbed a family of field mice. Mice are the one thing I’m petrified of! So there I am screaming and feeling like I failed as a cool, calm, collected retreat facilitator.
What it taught me was, we wear different hats at different times but underneath it all, we are all human, and instead of sinking into shame, I got to be supported by people at a time I needed it.
It made me so aware of the fact that if we don’t let people know what is going on for us, how can they help? We all need to speak up, speak out, listen and be part of a tribe.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking that when people are on a retreat that they have to do everything you have designed. I got super upset, thought I’d failed. I forgot it wasn’t about me. I forgot that for a lot of the people there that evening, just being there was huge.
Now I acknowledge the strength and courage it takes to step out of your daily routine. I learned so much about myself and people. Now I’m a champion of people saying “YES”. I don’t care what you say yes to, just say yes to something you have never done before and I’m there with you, making it come true.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
2020 is going to be an exciting year!
As a big believer in creating tribes to support you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do, Devas Being Divas has 10 international retreats planned with a diverse range of activities for all levels of involvement.
The retreat I’m extremely excited about is in Nepal where we get to collaborate with our foundation to support Nepalese children with their post-surgical nutritional recovery. Giving back to enable everyone to have the best life they can our key philosophy at Devas. We believe we are all connected and this is cornerstone ensures that we don’t live a lonely life.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
It started with feeling lonely myself. My son left for university on the other side of the world, and as a single mum, I found I was opening the door of an evening to silence. Being focused on him and his dreams for so long I had forgotten my own.
I know how vulnerable it is to admit this.
I started having conversations with clients and realised this wasn’t just my problem. This was bigger than me. I found myself coaching clients in this area.
They always say you always get to work with people in self-development and transformation who mirror what you need to learn. Now I find that this is my focus in my practice.
We get so hung up on what people will think. As a result of this, I found myself organising retreats and experiences for people to go on to develop the “I can do this” muscle, as I call it. Having the opportunity to share with people who are in the same position as you, create new friendships, new tribes and memories to get together with people in the future.
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?
Being isolated and lonely allows us to dwell on the negatives rather than the positives. It’s so easy when we are alone to build a problem into something bigger than it truly is.
Being connected allows for other perspectives to be expressed and allows each of us to make more informed choices. It’s a balance that we can all benefit on. Exercise, healthy eating, making sure the things we need to remain healthy like medication, check-ups to keep healthy, sleeping patterns.
Today we all have heard how important a good night’s continual sleep is, yet being lonely, it so easy to binge-watch tv and fall asleep on the sofa and get interrupted sleep.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
As humans, we are wired for connection. Cavemen lived in groups because it meant a greater chance of survival. Now as we disconnect from human contact we are experiencing health issues as a result of loneliness. Mental anxiety, depression, as well as heart problems to name a few. Stress is a major factor and can lead to an early death.
How sad to think, that in days gone by, when there was a problem, people would go to their neighbour, put the kettle on and the situation would be contemplated over a good ole cup of tea. Nowadays, how many people know who lives next door? Let alone feel they could just drop over for a cuppa?
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
We live in a global world. My grandmother was born in 1905 and died in 2004. When she was born, the aeroplane hadn’t even flown its first flight. Nowadays we think nothing of travelling to the other side of our country or the world both for vacations and as many people do for work, to improve their circumstances.
Yet the thing is, when we do this we create a life that doesn’t include the ones we have left behind. Yes, we can visit but a visit is only for a set time. Or we get caught up at work, our children’s lives and suddenly one year becomes the next.
There is a great German advertisement online where siblings who are scattered around the world get notified their father has died. They return home to find the table set for Christmas dinner and their father brings the turkey out on a platter for the meal. “ Dad!”, they say tears running down their faces. He sadly responds, “It was the only way to see you all together”.
It is not wrong for us to leave; we all have our paths to follow but keeping in touch benefits us all.
Our children get to experience intergenerational relationships, the dynamics of which are well documented for mental wellbeing. However, it is not just a one-way street, everyone has a responsibility to keep in touch.
Young adults and younger have been brought up with technology and believe a text or talking while gaming is a friendship. With face-to-face communication, you get to “read” the other person; their body language, their expressions. We have all sent a message, letter to someone that sounded great in our head yet when we speak with the other person, the tone we gave it wasn’t the one received.
As a result, when these young adults leave home to go to college they aren’t equipped with the skills to actively embrace new adventures. Instead of getting the maximum benefit from the experience, they report spending all their time in their rooms.
One of the biggest challenges of today is we are living longer, and family structures have changed. Divorce, breakdown of relationships lead to people we had previously leaned on to disappear from our lives.
Being a single parent myself, my focus when my son was growing up was him. Between working full-time, running a home and being responsible for him, it didn’t leave a lot of time for me. Suddenly, they are gone and you have to start again. It is so easy to get lost in the day to day commitments and lose yourself in the process.
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. Smile at people as you go about your daily life.
Make eye contact. Start saying “Good Morning”, “Hi!”, “¡Buenos días!”, or however you say it locally. Never do it expecting a response in return. However, as you do it, you will notice people you have smiled at before returning or instigating that hello.
I belonged to what we laughingly called “The Train Gang”. Many years ago, I lived in London and London Public transport has a terrible reputation for people travelling in silence. The stereotypical thought is, “All those people jammed into a carriage like sardines and they don’t speak!”
Well, they do.
There was a group of people I caught the train with every morning (yes, Brits are notorious for being creatures of habit, standing at the same place every morning). We started smiling at each other, then it was hello’s, to eventually socialising. People laughed when I told them about it, “You met them where?”. But other people wanted to join. Although I no longer live in London, when I am passing through or they are in a town I might be in, we always catch up. The 7:26 to London Charing Cross Train Gang have created many memories all from that first smile.
2. We are all evolving.
It is so easy to get caught up in the busyness of everyday commitments. Deadlines for work, children’s commitments and schedules, career pressures or caring for an elderly parent; it becomes easy to forget ourselves. Then circumstances change and we are left in a void; the parent we are looking after suddenly dies, or our children grow up and boom! they have left home, or we find our intimate relationship falls apart.
So, why not discover, again, what you are interested in?
I’m not saying this is easy, I think the first time we do this it is incredibly hard.
“What? Me? Go to a book club on my own? I won’t know anyone there!”
“Travel to Rome by myself? No, I have to get on a plane … they speak a different language, and I can’t eat in a restaurant by myself — people will look at me!”
It’s that part of the brain talking that represents fear.
Trying something new for ourselves after so long takes courage.
So, I always recommend creating a list AND be as outrageous as you possibly can. Then break it down into the easy, medium and hard piles.
From the “easy” pile pick one thing you know you will not fail at doing.
Because going out and creating new experiences and memories requires you to build your muscles up.
A few years ago I was living in San Diego. I had just moved there, so I didn’t know that many people but I do know I like live bands and dancing. I checked out MeetUp and found there was a group nearby that ticked these boxes for me. I got dressed up and took myself there. The group was designed to meet new people and as soon as I walked through the door people introduced themselves to me.
People were checking in on me not because I was on my own but to make sure I was included.
Oh, and to make sure I didn’t chicken out, I let a close friend know I had set the intention to go so she could keep me accountable.
Telling someone that you have decided to go do something to increase your social network is invaluable why because then you don’t let yourself down and stay at home and keep the loneliness cycle going. It doesn’t matter what you try but it is in the effort to do something new.
3. Find a purpose that you believe in and volunteer.
Volunteering gives back more than you could ever give. A cliche, yet it is so true.
There is a lady who lives on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane Australia who, when she got a new adorable puppy found herself walking the coastline twice a day. As she did, she started seeing discarded litter everywhere. She started taking a bag so she could pick it up. Then she noticed other dog walkers doing the same.
They all started chatting and created their volunteer group that ended up connecting with the local council and has now grown into a group that is about making the neighbourhood they live in beautiful. They have planted trees and shrubs, that is needed all over the world to improve air quality, water retention etc. The dogs and their owners are now firm friends and the community has benefitted greatly.
4. Keep in contact with family and old friends. Even the ones you’ve had a falling out with.
Communication is the key to avoiding being lonely. It’s so easy to fall out with someone and not allow each other to say how they feel about it and then fester in our anger. Suddenly you haven’t spoken for years.
While not always, possible aim to have difficult conversations, the outcome is often far better than we have made it in our head.
I left school nearly 40 years ago, and via social media, old school friends got in touch recently. We all talked about the petty squabbles we had back then, now we tag each other and keep in touch. It’s liberating, funny and important to be able to share memories with people that were there rather than getting blank stares from people you recount a story to that you think was hilarious. Sometimes, you just have to have been there!
5. Travel as much as you can.
There are so many options, solo travel, retreats like I run, group activities. It’s a great equaliser because no one knows what your circumstances are back home. You are all having the same experience.
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. 🙂
The movement I would inspire is that everybody gives back their time to help others. It should be a requirement of finishing your education, part of your work contract and receiving social assistance. When we are helping others we forget our woes, because we are all left feeling there is always someone out there who has things tougher than me.
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 🙂
Michelle Obama. When I was living in the UK and she was First Lady she visited an educationally challenged school in East London. She championed the girls, kept in touch and followed up with those girls to reach their potential. Her education foundation crosses borders ethnicity and social demographics. It embodies my belief we are all citizens of this planet, the same regardless of where our parents happened to be residing when we come into this world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@DevasDivas on IG
@Lesley_Benson on IG
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!