Loneliness can be harmful to your physical health as well as your mental state. This feeling of loneliness is much different than simply being alone.
Loneliness affects more than 60 million Americans and those affected rarely show any outward symptoms. It’s a deadly problem in America and even the ones affected might not realize how damaging it may be to their health.
Occasionally feeling lonely is normal, but chronic loneliness should be taken more seriously because it can lead to an array of health problems – including, according to research, cutting down your life expectancy.
One study linked a higher risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular decline to people over the age of 45 who said they were suffering from loneliness. This was for people at risk for heart disease, but for the population who isn’t at risk, another study found that people older than 60 who reported feeling lonely during the study were more likely to die during the six years the study went on.
Being lonely can also lead to an increased risk of dementia. According to one study, researchers found that regardless of how many friends the individual reported having, if he or she reported feelings of loneliness, there was an increased risk of dementia.
It also turns out for older people that loneliness can cause an increase in visits to the doctor’s office. According to one study, more frequent doctor’s visits may result from older people building up a relationship with their physician and making appointments to curb the feelings of loneliness.
Even sleep can be affected by feelings of loneliness. People who reported feeling lonely were more likely to wake up in the middle of the night due to sleep disturbances, according to one study.
Oddly, most of the people reporting loneliness were those who were at the edge of many of their social circles. They claimed that they usually didn’t feel included or cared about in their social circles as opposed to some of their peers.
Loneliness can also literally cause physical pain. A study in 2003 showed that loneliness triggered areas of the brain associated with physical pain. This has been theorized as a social mechanism of our ancestors for keeping humans in a group for survival purposes.
If you’re feeling lonely a lot, consult a doctor. But here some tips for occasional loneliness:
- Realize that loneliness is a feeling and not a fact. Your friends and family do actually care about you even if they don’t show it. This is just a feeling and is not indicative of how people are actually feeling toward you.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to other people. Most people are open to talking about your feelings or problems. Realize that any kind of relationship is a two-way street. People aren’t always going to reach out to you out of the blue, so you have to make the first move.
- The idea of reaching out goes hand in hand with being active. Send the first emails, participate in group discussions and go outside and seek out other people. This will help you reconnect with people and feel less isolated.
- Part of being active is participating in activities or clubs. Join a group on meetup.com to find others with similar interests as yourself. Try a class at the gym. Exercise can help depression and maybe you will meet someone new in a group exercise activity.