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Every person feels lonely at some point in their life. Humans are social beings who depend on secure social environments to thrive. When this need is not fulfilled, you feel lonely, which is a state of mind where you feel distressed about being alone and disconnected from the world around you. You may have felt this way as a child on the first day of school, starting a new job, after a breakup, or sitting at home wishing someone would call you back.
Loneliness affects every person in different ways. However, most people don’t realize the health consequences of chronic loneliness.
How Chronic Loneliness Affects Your Health
1.Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
New studies have found a direct biological link between loneliness and cardiovascular health. The research has found being lonely leads to the hardening of the arteries (which causes high blood pressure,) as well as an over-expression of genes. This creates long-term inflammation and damage to the blood vessels and tissues of the heart, increasing the risk of heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. (1)
2. Sleeping Disorders
Sleep and loneliness are tightly correlated to the point that a minute difference in a case of loneliness can affect one’s sleep. Those who are socially isolated may suffer from poor sleep quality and therefore have weaker restorative processes. This sort of sleep disruption can significantly impact the functioning of a lonely person’s everyday life. (2)
3. Weaker Immune System
In current research, there is a rise in verification that psychosocial factors affect the immune system. Particularly, loneliness has been proven to modulate the immune processes by lowering natural killer cell activity and increasing levels of circulating EBV antibodies. In short, loneliness can lower your immunity. (3)
4.Depression and Suicide
Unaddressed loneliness can lead to depression, a feeling of unworthiness, hopelessness, and a potential risk of suicide to escape from this situation. Social isolation can take its toll on mental health. Humans have a need for social interaction and when this is not met, we fall apart mentally and sometimes physically. This is a gateway into depression and even suicide. (4)
5. Mental Health Conditions.
Besides depression, loneliness creates anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. As if those symptoms weren’t enough, researchers have also found that loneliness is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults. Therefore, being lonely can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s later on in life. (5)
Preventing and Overcoming Chronic Loneliness
Being single, moving to a new town, or starting a new job can contribute to chronic loneliness, but there many ways you can pull yourself out of this detrimental state of mind.
Recognize and Understand Loneliness
Recognize that feeling lonely is a state that needs to change. Pay heed to the effects loneliness has on your life, physically and mentally.
Keep in mind that being an introvert is no excuse for isolation. Yes, you need solitude to recharge your social batteries, but introverts need interaction for their wellbeing just as critically as any extrovert.
Connect or Reconnect with Family and Friends
Don’t rely on social media to connect. Call up your loved ones and arrange a visit. Find circles of people who share similar interests and values as you and develop quality relationships.
Be Out and About
The way to meet people is to see people. Incorporate outings into your schedule, for example, social functions, exercising at a park or gym, visiting friends, or even going to public places you enjoy like libraries and gardens. Being around people in a public setting can help abate loneliness.
Helping others is a wonderful way to empower yourself and connect with others. Choose a charity or organization you are passionate about and sign up.
Animals are incredible companions and give comfort and support during stressful times and isolation. Research has shown that people with minimal human support but have a high level of attachment to a pet have less depression and loneliness. (7)
To treat the health detriments of loneliness, try natural treatments such as exercising to let off endorphins (feel-good hormones,) dieting, hypnosis, acupuncture, and herbs. (8)
Be aware that the cure for chronic loneliness rests in stopping the cycle of negative thinking that causes it in the first place. Self-reflection can help with recognizing the source and working on it as you develop healthy social connections.
However, if loneliness and isolation are creating distress, it would be wise to discuss your concerns with a counsellor, GP, or a trusted person.
Nicole K Valtorta, Mona Kanaan, Simon Gilbody, Sara Ronzi, Barbara Hanratty. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. http://heart.bmj.com/content/early/2016/03/15/heartjnl-2015-308790 Published: April 18, 2016. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. How lonely you are may impact how well you sleep, research shows. http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=2683 Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2011. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
American Psychological Association. Stress Weakens the Immune System. http://www.apa.org/research/action/immune.aspx Published: February 23, 2006. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
Archana Singh and Nishi Misra. Industrial Psychiatry Journal. Loneliness, depression and sociability in old age. Ind Psychiatry J. 2009 Jan-Jun; 18(1): 51–55.doi: 10.4103/0972-6748.57861 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016701/ Accessed: March 28, 2016.
Raheel Mushtaq, Sheikh Shoib, Tabindah Shah, and Sahil Mushtaq. Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health ? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Sep; 8(9): WE01–WE04.
Published online 2014 Sep 20. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/ Accessed: March 28, 2016.
Michele L. Morrison. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Interventions. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1533210107302397 Published: January 1, 2007. Accessed: March 28, 2016.