Most people have experienced the feeling of loneliness at some point of time in their lives. It’s an experience that many of us go through but rarely talk about. People may experience a feeling of loneliness due to a number of reasons including social anxiety or awkwardness, depression, past experiences, negative thoughts, or unrealistic expectations. While loneliness is normal, there are a few studies that have found that it could negatively impact your health.
How Common Is The Experience Of Loneliness?
The American Psychological Association reports, “Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined.”
6 Ways Loneliness Can Mess With Your Health
1. Increases Risk Of Premature Mortality
Chronic loneliness may reduce an individual’s life expectancy. Studies have found that people who socialize regularly have a 50 percent reduced risk of premature mortality. According to research published by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, “These findings indicate that the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.”
2. Increases Stress And Might Lower Immunity
Studies have found that people who are lonely experience higher levels of perceived stress than their non-lonely counterparts. Loneliness has also found to increase cortisol levels thereby directly contributing to an increase in stress levels. Research has found that increased stress may impact an individual’s immunity. Several studies show that the immunity levels of students during exams underwent a noticeable dip than during non-stress periods. Students under stress were also more likely to catch the flu or fall sick than those who weren’t.
3. Loneliness Can Make Medical Symptoms Feel Worse Than They Actually Are
According to research published by The American Psychological Association, not only were people who were lonely more likely to catch a cold, but they were also more likely to experience more symptoms and feel worse while they were sick. “By finding lonely people and infecting them with the cold virus, researchers determined that those who had weaker social networks were more likely to report their cold symptoms were more severe than cold sufferers who didn’t feel lonely.”
4. Loneliness May Contribute To Physical Inactivity
A few studies indicate that people who were lonely were more likely to be physically inactive than those who weren’t. This may be due to the fact that there is a reduced opportunity to socialize and lower motivation to stay in shape. Loneliness may also cause people eat unhealthily and to give into food cravings more than non-lonely people. An unhealthy lifestyle might lead to other health complications in the long run.
5. Increases Risk Of Mental Health Issues
Research has found that severe loneliness can lead to several other mental health issues like depression, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and addiction. Loneliness has also been found to cause sleep disorders and may affect quality of sleep. It has to be noted that people who live alone are not necessarily lonely. People may experience loneliness even while being in the company of other people.
6. Loneliness May Increase Heart-Related Risks
Loneliness has been found to increase the levels of circulating cortisol in the blood stream. This causes an increase in stress levels and in blood pressure levels. Higher blood pressure is associated with a number of heart-related risks.