Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation. Loneliness has increased with modernization and is an invisible epidemic that affects people worldwide.
Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, it is the perception of being alone and isolated.
Studies have shown that loneliness and lack of companionship have detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of an individual. Everyone feels lonely at times in their lives, but chronic loneliness poses a serious health risk.
What Causes Loneliness?
Loneliness can be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. Contrary to what many people believe, loneliness isn’t just a result of being alone or an absence of friends. It is a deeper problem that is caused by thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, imperfection and shame.
Chronically lonely people are often holding onto pessimistic thoughts and have negative predictions about the prospects of finding companionship, social connections and supportive relationships. This can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.
According to research by John Cacioppo, loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. Other contributing factors include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person’s life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression.1
Negative Impact Of Loneliness On Physical and Mental Health
Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health. Some of the the health risks associated with loneliness include:
1. Loneliness Can Affect The Brain Like Physical Pain
Emerging evidence suggests that experiences of social pain and the painful feelings associated with social disconnection, rely on some of the same neurobiological substrates that underlie experiences of physical pain.2 The brains of lonely individuals register feelings of threat and pain signals that are similar to real physical pain and danger.3
2. Reduces Life Expectancy
Loneliness can be fatal enough to cause premature death. Studies show that people who live unaccompanied are more likely to have an early death caused by stroke, heart attacks or other complications than those who live with their family or in a communal institution.
In the case of older individuals, those who reported feeling isolated, rejected or lonely had an increased chance of dying even though they were not living alone practically.4
3. Increases The Risk Of Dementia
The feeling of loneliness raises the risk of Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease by 64%. Feeling lonely rather than being alone, is associated with an increased risk of clinical dementia in later life and can be considered a major risk factor that, independently of vascular disease, depression and other confounding factors, deserves clinical attention.
4. Increases The Risk of Heart Disease
According to various studies, loneliness was found to be associated with an increased probability of having a heart condition. In addition, unfavorable perceptions of one’s health status was associated with feeling lonelier and an increased probability of having a heart condition.
The genes of chronically lonely individuals experience over-expression, leading to 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.6
5. Causes Sleeping Disorders
Psycho-social factors such as retirement, isolation and loneliness may promote insomnia in older people. There is a close relation between loneliness and sleep and even minute difference in the level of loneliness has an effect on sleep.
Helpful Tips to Alleviate Loneliness
1. Social Activities
Getting involved in social activities and engaging with people are the best ways to alleviate loneliness. Regular outings for social functions, exercise, visiting friends, shopping or simply going to public places can help.
2. Connect Or Reconnect With Friends And Family
Staying in contact with loved ones can prevent loneliness and isolation. If your family doesn’t live nearby, technology can help you stay in touch. It better to reach out to friends and family rather than withdrawing yourself. Cultivating a healthy friendship helps in alleviating sadness and loneliness.
3. Volunteering Activities
Helping others is a great way to help yourself feel more connected.
4. Show Up At Meetings And Gatherings
Sticking to your commitment and showing up at a gathering or meeting provides the opportunity of meeting and communicating with new people. It also shows your enthusiasm for friendships and people.
If loneliness and social isolation are causing you extreme distress, you should discuss your concerns with a GP, counselor or a trusted person. So, take control of your life and make it worthwhile by getting out of loneliness.
|↑1||Loneliness, Chicago Center for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago, John T. Cacioppo & Louise C. Hawkley.|
|↑2||Kross, Ethan, et al. “Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.15 (2011): 6270-6275.|
|↑3||Eisenberger, Naomi I. “The pain of social disconnection: examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 13.6 (2012): 421-434.|
|↑4||Shah, Ajit, et al. “A cross-national study of the relationship between elderly suicide rates and life expectancy and markers of socioeconomic status and health care.” International Psychogeriatrics 20.02 (2008): 347-360.|
|↑5||Holwerda, Tjalling Jan, et al. “Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL).” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 85.2 (2014): 135-142.|
|↑6||Sorkin, Dara, Karen S. Rook, and John L. Lu. “Loneliness, lack of emotional support, lack of companionship, and the likelihood of having a heart condition in an elderly sample.” Annals of Behavioral Medicine 24.4 (2002): 290-298.|
|↑7||Ancoli‐Israel, Sonia, and Jana R. Cooke. “Prevalence and comorbidity of insomnia and effect on functioning in elderly populations.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53.S7 (2005): S264-S271.|