How Does Loneliness Impact on Your Health?

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Loneliness can feel heart-wrenching for many of us and impacts greatly on our mental health. Although loneliness may not seem to be common, a 2014 study showed that over 40% of us are expected to be lonely (to the extent of it affecting our mental health), at some point in our lives.1 As this condition affects so many, it is important to understand whether you are lonely, the negatives of being in this state and how to escape from it.

What Causes Loneliness?

–    Moving into a new setting, such as a new job or new school, can bring on loneliness in some people. Usually, the initial period of loneliness in a new environment passes, but in some cases, the loneliness continues.

While adjusting to a new situation, while feeling lonely, people may not talk about them feeling this way to others, causing a vicious cycle leading to more and more loneliness.

–    This depriving feeling is more common to occur in people who have a few meaningful connections, or ‘real’ friends. This means that people who on the outside may seem to have a very active social life can be the loneliest, as they may not have many friends who they can trust.

–    If you have other diseases occurring, it can be hard to talk to others about these diseases, especially if you are embarrassed or ashamed to have these diseases, due to society’s perceptions.

Carrying on with the subject of having other diseases, it can be hard for people with diseases to socialise, as the diseases could make you feel more tired than usual, so you cannot fit much social life into your schedule.

–    Working from home can be a huge factor for having loneliness. People who work from home often do not have much physical or visual contact with even their colleagues, when they are working. This can result in some feeling bored and lonely due to a lack of social interaction, during their working hours.

Why Is It Bad to Be Lonely?

–    The main reason why being lonely for a long period is detrimental to you, is that it results in premature death (50% more than in individuals happy with their social life).2

–    Loneliness also results in physical health worsening, with higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, decrease in brain function, depression and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

–    The fact of the matter is that humans are not meant to be solitary. We, through evolution, are designed to form emotional bonds of trust and loyalty to others. In hunter-gather times this was to ensure that we were protected from other predators, who would otherwise kill us if we were not part of a group. This part of our personality has not changed although now, it is less for survival, but the maintenance of our mental health. 

This means that lonely people are often prepared to increase their adrenaline levels at any time, making them ready to go into “fight-or-flight”. If this loneliness is under a short time, this type of stress is healthy. However, if this stress continues as your loneliness continues, cortisol production can be increased in the body. Cortisol decreases the immune system’s responses to the body being infected. This increase in cortisol results in more inflammation while increasing the chances of having cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and depression. Furthermore, the cortisol increase results in brain neurons losing activity which could lead to cells dying in the body.

How to Stop Being Lonely:

–    Although a controversial solution, many researchers believe that loneliness can be cured by teaching sufferers how to be less socially awkward and be more approachable.

–    Counselling is a viable option for elderly people, many of whose friends have perhaps died. Counselling offers mental health support while also giving social interaction for the elderly who live alone or are alone most of the time.

–    If you a lonely, you can also try to increase the opportunities available to you for social interaction. To do this you can try to organise more group activities either with your friends or with other people that you know.

Loneliness can feel endless when you have this condition, however with hard work and persistence the vicious cycle that this state of mind creates can be broken apart.


References

  1. Winch, G., 2014. 10 Surprising Facts About Loneliness. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201410/10-surprising-facts-about-loneliness> [Accessed 7 June 2020].
  2. Magen, J., 2018. Loneliness Is Bad For Your Health. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/loneliness-is-bad-for-your-health-90901> [Accessed 7 June 2020].

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