Humans are social animals, who rely on a safe, secure, social surrounding to survive and thrive. However, each of us is capable of feeling lonely. Loneliness is actually a state of mind associated with the feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself or feeling disconnected from the world around you.
It is both complex and unique to each individual. Loneliness has become an invisible epidemic affecting millions of people around the globe. Though everyone feels lonely at times in their lives, but chronic loneliness poses a serious health risk.
Effects Of Loneliness On Health
1. Depression And Suicide
Loneliness has been linked with depression, and is thus, a risk factor for suicide. Being socially isolated from society can take a toll on mental health. When our need for social relationships is not met, we fall apart mentally and even physically. If the loneliness and/or social isolation is not addressed, it may lead to an increased risk of depression, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or thoughts about suicide as an escape from their situation
2. Cardiovascular Disease And Stroke
New research suggests that, there’s a direct biological link between being lonely and cardiovascular health.
According to research, loneliness leads to hardening of the arteries (which leads to high blood pressure), it leads to over-expression of genes, causing long-term inflammation and damage to the tissues and blood vessels of the heart increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
Also, the elevated levels of stress hormones during loneliness increases the accumulation of cholesterol deposits in the heart.
3. Sleeping Disorders
There is a close relation between loneliness and sleep, and even a minute difference in the level of loneliness has an effect on sleep. People who are socially isolated may report poor sleep quality, and thus have diminished restorative processes. It has been seen that lonely individuals experience more trouble with sleep and this disruption of sleep patterns can have a significant impact on the ability to function in everyday life.3
4. Weaker Immune System
There is growing support for the view that psycho-social variables can have an effect on the immune system. Loneliness has been shown to be a powerful modulator of immune processes. For instance, loneliness has been associated with lower natural killer (NK) cell activity and higher levels of circulating EBV antibodies. In simple words, loneliness can strain the immune system.
5. Mental Health Conditions
Apart from increased risk of depression, loneliness causes anxiety, paranoia, or panic attacks. Research studies found that loneliness is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults. Thus, loneliness can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in later life.
Treating And Preventing Loneliness
There are many different ways used to treat loneliness. A few tips on how to overcome loneliness are as follows:
Recognize and understand loneliness
Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change and understand the effects that loneliness has on your life, both physically and mentally.
Connect or reconnect with friends and family
Focus on developing quality relationships with people who share similar attitudes, interests and values with you. Staying in contact with loved ones can prevent loneliness and isolation.
Get out and about
Regular outings to social functions, exercise, visiting friends, shopping, or simply going to public places can help.
Helping others is a great way to help you feel more connected.
Pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy
Pets are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health or isolation. Studies have found that, among people with low levels of human support, those with a high level of attachment to a pet have less loneliness and depression.
These treatments may include exercise, dieting, hypnosis, electro-shock therapy, acupuncture and herbs.
Loneliness can have large negative effects inside the human body, but with additional social contact, some of the ill effects can be stopped. More than anything else, the cure for persistent loneliness lies in breaking the negative cycle of thinking that created it in the first place. However, if loneliness and social isolation are causing you distress, you should discuss your concerns with a GP, counselor or a trusted person.