Is Loneliness Making You Sick? How it Affects Your Health
Recent studies state that social isolation and loneliness could be a greater threat to public health than obesity.
Have you ever been in a room full of friends and still felt that you are all alone? That you couldn’t really connect with anyone around? Well, it is possible that you were feeling lonely.
Many people will say, ‘So what? We all have felt lonely at some point or the other.’
But what’s shocking is that loneliness is now being considered a serious health threat.
A recent report in The Economist states that health professionals and policymakers worldwide are concerned about loneliness and are launching campaigns to curb it. The biggest issue of loneliness seems to be that it cannot be quantified hence it’s difficult to make a diagnosis.
A study conducted by the American Psychological Association stated that ‘social isolation, loneliness could be a greater threat to public health than obesity’.
While technology has made it possible for us to be connected 24*7, loneliness is difficult to digest or deal with.
A study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on networking sites is inversely related to how happy you are throughout the day.
And that’s not it! Loneliness can have serious physical and mental effects on your body.
Increased Levels of Stress Hormones
Loneliness makes you feel stressed out, almost at all times. The feeling that nobody understands you or that you don’t have anyone to reach out to gradually becomes the cause of stress. The stress hormone cortisol becomes active in the brain when you start feeling isolated.
So the more you isolate yourself from your social circle, the more likely you are to be down in the dumps!
Weak Immune System
Research suggests that loneliness can lower your immunity levels. The stress due to loneliness results in higher production of inflammation-related proteins which might cause several health ailments.
Speaking to FIT, Dr Achal Bhagat, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, said:
Loneliness may lead to weak immune system and high stress levels since the more isolated you feel, the less you care for yourself.Dr Achal Bhagat
High Risk of Heart Disease
Loneliness can actually break your heart!
Once you begin isolating yourself, you are more likely to drink and smoke more which might affect your heart health. The persistent tendency to avoid social interactions at all costs increases your stress levels and affects your cardiovascular system.
Stress signals increase levels of protein fibrinogen in the body, and too much of this protein is bad for health.
Loneliness takes a toll on your overall fitness levels. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels may shoot up due to the mental sense of isolation.Dr Achal Bhagat
Also Read: Loneliness: The Next Big Epidemic
Disturbed Sleep, Loss of Appetite
Loneliness ruins the quality of sleep so it doesn’t restore your body, physically and psychologically. You might be prone to waking up more frequently at night owing to your disturbed sleep cycles.
Loneliness also kills your appetite. While you constantly yearn for companionship, you are also neglecting your physical and mental needs in the process. This might lead to eventual appetite and weight loss.
High Possibility of Depression
Dr Bhagat warns us about the close links between loneliness and depression. Loneliness can become a serious mental health issue if it isn’t acknowledged for a long period of time.
It is very important to know when small bouts of loneliness gradually transform into serious, chronic symptoms of depression.
In many cases, loneliness can be a symptom of chronic depression and alternately, if you are depressed then you might also feel lonely. It’s a vicious cycle which needs immediate attention.Dr Achal Bhagat
Increased Risk of Suicide
Research suggests that ‘social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators’. The feeling of loneliness might increase the risk of death by 26 percent.
The recent internet menace of the Blue Whale Challenge proves that the more socially isolated we become, the higher the risks are of becoming victims of such predators.
In an age where technology has taken over our lives and we are more connected, it is rather ironical that we are becoming lonelier than ever.
Is There a Solution?
Yes, there is a way out but it will require effort from your end. Put away all your gadgets, and step out and meet people. Share your anxieties with your family and friends. Definitely don’t avoid their calls, texts and mails! And be generous with social invitations – accept them. After all, that’s how you will meet people!
Dr Bhagat has a simple tip if you are feeling lonely:
Try and make one new friend everyday. Talk to one new person, visit one new place, have one new conversation. It will give you a fresh perspective in life.Dr Achal Bhagat
Well, what are you waiting for? Step out now before it’s too late.
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