Loneliness is a common feeling among a lot of people in today's society. Feelings of isolation without a sense of belonging has always been around, but has significantly increased since the 2020 pandemic. Humans are social beings, and our connectedness to others is what enables us to survive and thrive.
Research has shown that loneliness is not just uncomfortable, it can have significant effects on our physical and mental health. Moreover, loneliness can decrease the strength of our mind-body connections.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a universal emotion that can be very complex. Some people describe loneliness as the feeling we have when our need for social interaction and relationships has not been met. Others describe it as having achieved social connectedness but only on a surface level. Loneliness has no single common cause, meaning treatment options can vary.
Loneliness, according to experts, is not about being alone. Instead, you feel alone and isolated, damaging your state of mind. You may have an abundance of friends and family, but still feel lonely despite being surrounded by connections. Feelings of loneliness are personal, so everyone’s experience will be different. So how does this affect our mental and physical health?
How Loneliness Affects Our Health
Social isolation and loneliness are both sources of chronic stress, which can lead to reduced sleep quality, physiological changes in heart health, impaired immune function, and elevated cortisol levels. Alongside physical health issues, loneliness is associated with cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and premature mortality.
Loneliness, in combination with social isolation, has been associated with ill-health patterns, so determining the cause can be difficult. For the most part, loneliness can lead to adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, dysregulation of the neuroendocrine system, and chronic inflammation. Due to these health hazards, loneliness can increase the likelihood of individuals initiating harmful behaviors. Behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, smoking, and casual sexual activity can be a form of psychological relief for those suffering from loneliness.
How to Combat Loneliness
Loneliness can be due to so many different factors and can affect both your emotional and physical health long-term. Acknowledge your feelings of loneliness and how it has impacted your life. You may conclude that you need to see a therapist. You can also seek help from friends and family and let them know you are struggling. Another way to overcome loneliness is by joining a group or a club with in-person connections. An example could be a gym membership that you go to every day, or maybe a class of some sort. These groups can be perfect for like-minded people to get together and connect.
Overall, practicing self-care is a great way to combat loneliness. Get some exercise and sunshine daily, eat a healthy diet, go to sleep at a decent hour, and make time for the things you truly enjoy doing. Loneliness affects millions of people, and the key is realizing how you feel and the best strategy for you to overcome it.
Source: Kendra Cherry (2023) Loneliness: Causes and Health Consequences
Source: Hidaya Aliouche (2021) What are the Health Effects of Loneliness?
Source: Carmen Chai (2022) What Does the Science Say About How Loneliness Affects Our Health?