Back in 2017, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, began to notice that loneliness was a problem for millions of people throughout the country (via The Washington Post). He also discovered that loneliness was contributing to serious health problems like depression, anxiety, dementia, and even heart disease. As Murthy studied the impacts of loneliness, he discovered that chronic loneliness can take the same number of years off your life as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Because of the health impacts and the widespread nature of the problem, Murthy argued that loneliness should be classified as an epidemic and treated as a public health crisis.
Naz Perez, a television producer and the founder of the support group Heart Broken Anonymous, agrees. She believes that loneliness is actually at the core of public health issues like addiction and violence, as well as depression and anxiety. Perez also believes that loneliness is part of what makes heartbreak so devastating, which is one of the reasons she founded Heart Broken Anonymous.
In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Perez talked about the "epidemic of loneliness" plaguing our country, and the solution she's found.
When Naz Perez's first serious relationship abruptly ended, she sunk into a deep depression. She was shocked by the impact the breakup had on her, and by the fact that there wasn't much affordable support for people experiencing heartbreak.
She felt that "there should be somewhere people can go to feel relief and to feel better. She continued, saying, "I was like, 'Well, heartbreak is inevitable. We're all going to feel heartbreak at some point in our life, and we need heartbreak in order to feel what love is, but how can I make people feel better?'"
This question led her to Murthy's research into loneliness, and Perez was fascinated. She realized that loneliness is part of what makes heartbreak so awful. So, she set out to find the answer to a very important question: "How can we make people feel less lonely?" While looking for the answer, Perez discovered research that showed that simply being around people, even strangers, can make us feel better. With this information, she came up with an antidote to loneliness.
"My recipe in the cauldron [is] let's put strangers together, let's remind them they're not alone in this loneliness epidemic, and let's make them feel good as if they're giving back while they're also sharing in a space, and feeling what they're actually feeling," Perez said. And with that recipe, she created Heart Broken Anonymous.
Heart Broken Anonymous is a support group for anyone struggling with "overwhelming distress," which Perez said is the definition of loneliness. Anyone who feels like their heart is broken by their current circumstances is welcome at a Heart Broken Anonymous meeting. It's also not a 12-step program; it's simply a forum for sharing stories. Attendees sit in a circle or gather on Zoom and, one by one, share how heartbreak is affecting them.
There's no advice-giving or problem-solving in Heart Broken Anonymous. People just listen, nod, and thank you for sharing. Perez said that this gives people the space to create internal validation for yourself, where you're at, and how you're feeling." Each meeting ends with attendees sharing one thing that gives them hope and one thing they're grateful for. Perez further explained that the focus on hope and gratitude helps people see past their current pain and look forward to the future. Most importantly, Heart Broken Anonymous meetings give people a place to go so they know they're not alone, which is perhaps the most effective antidote for the epidemic of loneliness.
Visit HeartBrokenAnonymous.com to find upcoming meeting times. Heart Broken Anonymous is hosting a special meeting on Valentine's Day for those who need support.
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