5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic, with Rachel Davies and Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Oct 30 · 11 min read

Alcoholism is considered to be a disease of loneliness, but I think it’s true for most kinds of addiction. Lack of meaningful connection can be very painful and hard to bear, and Western culture offers all kind of drugs that soothe this pain in the short term and make things a whole lot worse for individuals, families and society in the long term. It’s hard to overstate the negative health impacts of addiction. If we had less loneliness and more meaningful connection, we’d have less need for this kind of soothing, and healthier individuals and communities.

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 Rachel Davies. Rachel Davies is a communication coach and mindfulness-based hypnotherapist. With a broad training in the healing arts, including a few years at the innovative Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, and a previous two decades winning awards as a writer and director in the New Zealand film industry, the depth, richness and diversity of Davies’ experience allows her to offer a wealth of grounded, practical support to her clients, along with a genuine kindness and sense of humour.


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’d been working as a filmmaker and director for a couple of decades in New Zealand and was burnt out. Film is a high pressure environment, plus NZ wasn’t funding any female directors or writers at the time — there’d been a decade long drought in their funding of women, and I was feeling frustrated. I’d won a green card in the US Diversity Lottery, but didn’t know where in the US I’d want to live. At the time, I was doing Bioenergetic Psychotherapy and learned that Alexander Lowen, who invented Bioenergetics, had spent time at the Esalen Institute. On researching Esalen, I fell in love with the wild, forward-thinking, humanistic work that was happening there, applied to their work scholar program, packed my bags and said goodbye to my pals. My mother was scared that it was a weird cult, so we made a secret code word I could say on the phone if I was in trouble, and she insisted that I carry $200 cash in my wallet at all times in case I needed to go stand in the middle of State Highway 1 and wave down a taxi. Fortunately it was a very sane, grounded, extremely fun place where I learned a great deal. Jean Morrison was teaching non-violent communication there and what she taught me changed my life.

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

Everything that happens at Esalen is interesting. A day there is like a week in the normal world, it’s so jam packed with life. Like you might be sitting on the lawn out the front, with the jaw-dropping majesty of Big Sur and the Pacific Ocean stretching out before you. And perhaps you’re doing a check in before starting your shift in the kitchen, because hearing what’s up with everyone is part of the fabric of Esalen life and the connection that’s built into it. And all around you on the lawn, perhaps there are blindfolded people trying to walk, stumbling and laughing, because they’re doing a Joseph Campbell workshop and are removing one of their senses as an experiment. But instead of this, you’re focused on listening to this incredible woman who you’ve been working alongside in the kitchen this last week who has come to be a work scholar for the month after her husband’s suicide. And perhaps she’s sharing some revelation she had in class or while doing the dishes yesterday, and it’s the most beautiful, tender thing you ever heard. That’s three minutes of a typical day at the Esalen Institute.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting?

They say that you can’t make anybody do anything against their moral code while under hypnosis. When I was starting I wanted to test this out. I had my boyfriend hypnotised, deep down in trance. So I said to him, “And you’ll notice that you want to pick your socks up off the floor, it’s so easy for you to keep things tidy. And you love to vacuum…” He opened his eyes immediately and just looked at me shaking his head.

Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

That vacuuming and picking up his socks are against my boyfriend’s moral code! And that’s its true, hypnotherapy is very protective — people won’t do things they don’t want to do in trance states.

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

Right now I’m working with high functioning, corporate teams operating at the top of their game to support them to make fine-tuning, ultra-success tweaks to fully maximise their teamwork, trust, connection and psychological safety. A great team can do pretty much anything. For me, the more that innovators and cutting-edge business understands and genuinely practices these collaborative communication tools, the more the tools will flow into everyday life. If there’s plenty of high-quality listening and mutual understanding in business, there’s more likely to be plenty of high-quality listening and mutual understanding in families, on the streets, in relationships, in classrooms etc.

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

Human connection and connection to the life energy is at the heart of non-violent communication (NVC) as well as much of the healing arts. I’ve been studying and practicing NVC and the healing arts for a decade now, and have been using it and testing it out on all aspects of my life. It’s made a huge difference to everything, but most of all in changing my feelings of loneliness. I have great tools for genuinely connecting to other people now and it supports me so much. I wish I had been taught these tools at school, I would have had so much more happiness and the ability to navigate difficult situations better. My expertise comes from years of study, practice, and real, lived experience road testing all of this stuff.

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?

Alcoholism is considered to be a disease of loneliness, but I think it’s true for most kinds of addiction. Lack of meaningful connection can be very painful and hard to bear, and Western culture offers all kind of drugs that soothe this pain in the short term and make things a whole lot worse for individuals, families and society in the long term. It’s hard to overstate the negative health impacts of addiction. If we had less loneliness and more meaningful connection, we’d have less need for this kind of soothing, and healthier individuals and communities.

A second aspect is that being able to genuinely connect with others often gives us better ideas, more opportunities and more potential for growth. There’s a loss of human potential associated with loneliness. People and societies flourish when they collaborate, hear each other and value everyones contribution.

In addition, loneliness can lead to depression, stress, anxiety, negative thought patterns, unkindness to the self, feelings of lack of worth and much more. There’s a large body of scientific evidence that shows that stress and anxiety contribute to negative physical health outcomes, like lowering of immune function and various chronic conditions. I see this in my own work also, particularly while supporting clients to heal injuries. In this work we examine any self talk or beliefs that might be preventing their natural healing, and it’s often surprising what’s there.

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

There’s violence that comes from lack of understanding and connection to others; there’s the devastating, far-reaching impacts of addiction; and the harm that comes from minimizing our potential by not having everyone’s voice at the table.

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.

Social media can be connecting but not necessarily in a high-quality, meaningful or real way. And sometimes it can be very toxic. For me, there’s a particular hollow loneliness I feel scrolling down my Facebook feed that could use a word all of its own, and I hear my friends and clients describe a similar loneliness. My Facebook feed is like a luke warm bath — not cold enough to get out of just yet, but not hot enough to be actually good. And when I finally get out, I find that I’ve wasted hours, feel yukky, and can’t remember what I was doing in the first place.

We used to have to make friendships and connect with our neighbors because we needed their support in practical ways. Now it’s possible to be very self sufficient. A person can live alone, get everything they need delivered to their door, drive alone to work, or work alone at home, and there’s not much necessity for real life interaction or vulnerability. It’s easier to order a cup of sugar from Amazon that to knock on a neighbors door and ask. This is a very lonely place to be.

Further, in consumeristic cultures, people often want to appear successful, fashionable, popular and all of that, so we don’t get to see under the mask very much. If we did, we’d see that everyone is having a hard time with something most of the time. Life can be very difficult and painful for everyone. I don’t know why we insist on pretending that it’s not. But this pretending can be a catalyst for a lot of loneliness, because people feel pain, look to see if others feel it, and are met with perfect, icy cold exteriors.

Also, most people don’t know how to actually listen to another person. They make it about themselves, about trying to fix or distract or entertain the other person, even if their intention is to actually help and care. In the West, people just aren’t taught how to do this basic thing, to actually listen. And for me, this is also a catalyst for great loneliness.

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.

Listen to yourself. Slow down. What’s going on with you right now? As you notice what it is, please don’t change a thing, just make space for it to be ok for you to be feeling whatever you’re feeling. Let it be ok for you to be however you are. Right there is Step One, you’re connecting with yourself and not trying to make yourself any different from how you are. That’s self acceptance and self connection. When we’re self connected, we feel less lonely inside and we’re also in a much better position to have quality connection with others, because we already have it with ourselves. Like my teacher says, “You can’t give what you haven’t got“.

What’s important to you? Now take this self-understanding deeper. You’ve noticed what you’re feeling, but what are you needing? What’s important to you underneath that feeling? What matters to you? Is it a longing for more ease perhaps? Or acknowledgement? To be seen and heard? Safety? Adventure? Fun? Autonomy? Security? At the heart of NVC is the concept that everything someone does is an attempt to meet a human need. And on the level of human needs — which is our common ground, there is no conflict. We all love and want the same stuff, we just have different ways of trying to get it. Once you know what you need, you have a much better chance of communicating this need to yourself and others and connecting.

Listen to others, make it all about them. Next time someone is talking to you, just put your attention and presence on them, stay quiet and listen with your being. No fixing, helping, thinking about what you’re going to say next. Just stay with them. In a workshop once, we practiced this kind of listening in pairs for two minutes each. At the end a man said, “I’d read about this kind of listening in Marshall Rosenberg’s book (Rosenberg developed NVC) and I thought it would be good, but I didn’t know it would be this good” and his eyes started shining with tears. The whole room felt it, how precious this gift of actually listening to one another is. It’s the heart of connection and the ultimate cure for the loneliness epidemic.

Reflect the other person, let them know you hear them. When it comes time for you to say something, let them know you heard them. Slow it down, and tell them what you heard, especially what you heard matters to them. The need is the most important part to reflect back, because that’s at the heart of things. You could give them a reflection, like “I’m hearing you wanting a bit more space for yourself?” Is that it?” And stay curious. It doesn’t matter if you guess correct, it matters that you’re guessing at all, that you’re curious about what’s going on for them and wanting to help them deepen into more understanding about themselves and what’s important to them. There! You’re doing it! Real listening!

You can ask for a reflection too. When you are talking to someone about something important, you might like to ask for a reflection for yourself too, to receive this quality of connection in return. It’s like asking “Do you know what I mean?”, only a little more precisely and effectively. You might say (and this is a lot of words, but hopefully you’ll get the gist), “I really want to make sure we’re understanding each other. Would you be willing to tell me what you’re getting from what I’m saying, so I know if we’re on the same page?” You’re asking them to hear you, not in a mechanical this-is-the-information-you-imparted way, but to actually get you as a human. You’re wanting them to hear what’s important to you, the common ground that you both stand on. It’s always amazing to me when I ask for a reflection, what a person actually does get from what I’m saying. I might say, “I love having a clean house”, and my boyfriend might hear “I’m in trouble again because I left my socks on the floor.” It can be very useful to make sure you’re both understanding each other properly before trying to find solutions, then at least you’ll be talking about the same thing and will hence have more chance of success.

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. :-)

It might be a Real Listening Movement. Gee, wouldn’t that be cool if we all actually heard each other all the time, rather than just thinking we do? It could change the world.

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 :-)

David Clark, Minister for Health in New Zealand.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My insta handle is hypnotherapywithRachel and my website is www.rachel-davies.com

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

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

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Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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