We all know what it’s like to feel lonely. Whether we’re introverted or extroverted, at some point, we’ll face feelings of isolation and separation. Loneliness is when these feelings grow stronger, when we feel alone, separated from others, unsupported, and distressed. It could be when your significant other goes on a trip without you, or when your best friend moves to another state. These feelings are common for everyone, but what sort of impact do they have on the human body?
It’s well-known that humans are social creatures. We all feel a need to be a part of groups or to have close relationships, to some degree. Psychologists have found that, when our social needs are met, it’s easier for us to find motivation, and to meet our daily life challenges. When it is not met, it leads to the feeling of loneliness, which can cause a number of other health concerns.
Loneliness is common, but only when it’s transient (only lasts a short time). When it becomes persistent, that’s reason for concern. Extended loneliness can accelerate the aging process and can even lead to death. It’s even been suggested that it is just as dangerous as cigarettes, alcohol, and obesity. In terms of emotional impact, loneliness can lead to feeling hopeless, as though there’s nothing you can do to help yourself. This is associated with depression, which can then lead to increased disability, weight loss, lack of sleep, and thoughts of suicide. These emotions feed into each other, becoming a circle of negative health effects.
Without social interactions, your brain doesn’t have as many opportunities to be stimulated. Engaging in conversation and other social activities help to keep the brain in good shape, and it reduces the risk of dementia. Not having these social outlets can reduce overall brain function over time. This is most common in the elderly who live alone or are isolated from family or friends. However, in children, this can affect their development, as social interaction is an important part of growing up.
The mental problems might have been obvious, but did you know there are also physical effects of loneliness? It’s associated with changes in the cardiovascular, hormonal, and immune systems. This can lead to heart damage, loss of bone and muscle, and reduced ability to resist illness and infection.
So, what can you do to fight loneliness? The simple answer is to be socially active:
- If you’re in a situation where friends or family are separated by distance, phone calls or video calls through programs like Skype are useful.
- Walking is also a healthy way to be social. Taking regular walks through your neighborhood is likely to introduce you to people, and if you already have some in mind, invite them along!
- If you’re on the other end of things, and you know someone who is struggling with loneliness, try to include them in gatherings. Invite them to your next holiday party, or meet them for lunch.
We all deal with loneliness, and we all can play a part in reducing it.
*This article is not intended to provide professional medical advice, diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, please schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or established behavioral health provider.