Can Extreme-Loneliness Hurt Your Health?:
Thanks to sites like Farcebook and Twitter, we may be more connected than ever.
But in what’s called “The Social Media Paradox”, Loneliness has actually doubled since the 1980’s
Adding up to almost half of adults saying they’re lonely.
So should you be worried if you’re part of that group?
And as one interesting thread on Quora asks: If taken too far, Can Loneliness end up killing you?…
Too Much Of A “Good” Thing Can Be Bad:
The short answer is Yes.
With a huge conflation of well-studied factors,
The net-effect of Loneliness really can impact your health to such a degree you might not easily or regularly imagine the effects.
Read on to see how…
All Emotions Serve A Purpose, Because: Evolution, Baby:
So we all feel the way we do under certain circumstances, because the ones who didn’t were weeded-out by Evolution,
By winning the proverbial “Darwin Award”.
So Loneliness is actually a very healthy emotion that is designed to -Alert- you when you are outside of a group.
Imagine if you felt just skippy being all by yourself, for terrible reasons, and then a bear sneaks up and eats you. The End.
So Loneliness feels bad, so you can resolve that negativity by seeking out social-connection, which is one of the things that kept us alive for so long over time.
And pretty-much, if you spend that much time Thinking you’re lonely, you really are,
And there is something about your social-relationships that is not working or not-existent for you.
The MRI Scans Prove It:
Even subjects examined in FMRI machines showed different responses in the reward-centers of their brains based on loneliness.
When people who reported being lonely were placed in the scanner, they showed much higher activity in rewards-centers when being shown a photo of a friend or family-member as compared to that of a total stranger.
But interestingly, people who were fine seemed more able to explore the unknown and showed equal-activity in that same region when shown either photo of friend or stranger.
So there you go, the measurements show the brain’s natural desire to find a circle to belong to, just like Norm at Cheers.
Everybody Has Their Own Personal Angst:
We would normally think that Loneliness only affects certain groups of people most likely to be isolated,
Perhaps just by time and circumstance.
But in another weird twist that echoes “The Social Media Paradox”,
A very high percentage of 18-37 year-olds from Gen-Z and Millennials are feeling lonely,
Especially when compared to contemporaries, and their counterparts even a generation or two ago.
And Now The Health-Effects, Lonely People Get Worse Colds:
In a study of about 160 subjects who were exposed to the common-cold virus,
Increasingly-lonely people reported severity of symptoms anywhere from 200% to 300% worse than the average non-lonely person.
This even held true when all subjects were isolated for the duration of the illness,
And not allowed to socialize during that time.
So the benefits of social-connection still help even when you’re away for a short-while.
But Wait It Gets Worse, Lonely People Get Sicker In-General:
Not only do Lonely people get worse colds,
Regardless of how you define them: Socially-Isolated, Lonely, Living-Alone, etc.
They have more chronically-elevated levels of the Stress-hormone, Cortisol.
They are also more likely to have:
1) Increased Blood-Pressure
2) ~30% More Cardiovascular problems like Heart-Disease and Heart-Attack
3) 32% Increased incidence of other Circulatory-Problems like Stroke.
4) Auto-Immune disorders
5) Increased-difficulty recovering from illnesses of all types
6) Reduced Immune-Response
7) Modified gene-expression in 200+ genes of the body’s Inflammation-system
8) Declining Myelination of Brain-Cells
They Also Have More Mental-Health Issues As Well:
The main types of increasingly-lonely people that range in severity similar to the common-cold study,
Also tend to have Psychological issues either as the cause, or the result-of Loneliness also.
These include greater incidence of:
3) Substance-Abuse Issues,
5) More serious disorders like Bi-Polar and Schizophrenia
6) Much higher rates of Suicide
7) Accelerated Cognitive-Decline
8) Increased sensitivity to Negative Social-Signals
9) Decreased positive Anticipation from Social-Opportunities
10) Reduced Intuition into others’ emotional-states.
The Social-Leprosy Gets Worse Because You Forget Good Habits:
Now in the Weird-Science of LCDs, we talked about how people do not question their mirror-neurons.
If they see someone behaving in a socially-anxious way,
They avoid that person and even feel bad after interacting with them at-all.
This goes double for the varying-severity of lonely people for one simple reason Jordan Peterson has pointed-out.
In many ways, you outsource a big part of your Sanity to your social-group.
So what happens when the group really isn’t “There” anymore?
You start to lose that “Sanity”, one good habit at a time.
In-fact another set of problems lonely people are more likely to have is bad habits.
These can include:
1) Reduced Personal-Maintenance and Hygiene
2) Forgetting Medication or Vitamins
3) Poor Nutrition
4) Excess Alcohol Intake
5) Reduced Exercise
6) Reduced Time Outside
7) Reduced Presence Among Others
8) Worse Sleep Quality & Time
9) Tendency to be Poorer
So What Is The Net-Effect Of Loneliness On Lifespan?:
It depends on the study you look at.
In one Brigham-Young study, for those who were Feeling Lonely, Socially-Isolated, or Living Alone,
The increased rates of early-mortality were +26%, +29%, and +32%, respectively.
The token-example of this risk has been equated to the average healthy-person smoking 15 cigarettes a day,
Or living for the same amount of time with chronic obesity.
In a previous analysis of 148 studies by the same researcher,
The increase on early-mortality for people who were lonely was closer to +50%!
So Yes, Loneliness can eventually kill you.
In addition to the fact that not having someone else around to help can result in all kinds of 3-Stooges level disasters,
That can also be fatal.
Are There Any Bright-Spots Or Re-Interpetations That Soften The Verdict?:
An interesting team of researchers from Finland examined stats on about 500,000 subjects in the UK.
They found that
1) Isolation correlated with 43% increased-risk of Heart Attack and 39% for Stroke.
2) Loneliness was associated 49% increased-risk of Heart Attack and 36% for Stroke.
BUT, they then took into account Biological, Health, Socioeconomic, and (controversially) Antisocial-Personality Factors.
Ie: Does Loneliness cause these effects, or do these events result in reduced-socialization that then makes people feel lonely?
So The Most-Optimistic View May Be:
1) Isolation increased the risk of Heart Attack by 7% and Stroke by 6%
2) Loneliness increased Heart-Attack risk by 6% and Stroke by 4%
Ie: In some cases, the extra-risk may be attributable to Obesity, Smoking, Education, Pre-Existing Illness, and Socioeconomic factors.
But no matter what they did with the data, the cautions and benefits were still present.
So the U. Helsinki team’s analysis may represent an overly-optimistic way of looking down the telescope.
-Especially since the Cacioppo study reveals that loneliness even affects the way we perceive the world and other people,
To say nothing of the additional psychological impacts likely to come-along with it.
So Dr. Hakulinen’s analysis might actually be a step too-far.
So What Can You Do About Fixing It?:
Some of the best things you can do to change your mind about anything,
Are also the same things that equate to general good-health & happiness.
So after you check with your doctor and get approval for the changes,
Try implementing something as simple as getting out more.
If digital-networking technology results in convenience but isolation,
Then try to take as many of your On-Line activities back into the Physical World.
Can you get what you needed at an actual, physical Target or Walmart store?
-Instead of Amazon’s website?
Well if you can, you will see many people.
See Many People, Be Friendly & Positive, Everywhere:
Smile, make eye-contact, be positive, and display the progress of all your new & better health-habits.
And when you’re not doing that,
What about re-connecting with Family & Friends? -In the real, non-digital world.
There have to be at least a few of them kicking around somewhere, right?
Or what about the greatest solution to loneliness of all?
A Quick Aside: Reading-Material To Help Fix Maladaptive-Thinking:
One of the greatest books I know-of on the psychological practice of getting yourself happy,
And its core-strength is helping you find all different kinds of maladaptive-thinking,
Or unreasonably-perfectionistic standards you may have for your behavior.
This is not to give yourself carte-blanche to either give-up or be boorish,
But parts I-IV are invaluable as mental-tools to help you address issues of unfair self-talk,
And faulty information-processing.
Even just the list of The 10 Most Typical Cognitive-Distortions from pages 42-43 are absolute gold.
So while information, nutrition, exercise, & good routines can help you, psychological tools are really good too.
Quick Aside Part 2, Cognitive-Distortions:
Just for your info to get you started, here are Dr. Burns’ 10 Cognitive-Distortions (some other books have 15).
1) All-Or-Nothing Thinking
3) Hyper-Focus On The Negative
4) Disqualifying All Of The Positive
5) Jumping To Conclusions / Negativizing The Unknown
5a) Playing “Psychic” About Things You Cannot Know
6) Catastrophizing Hypothetical Repercussions
7) Assuming Emotions Are Either Facts Or Sound Logic
8) “Should” Statements, Of Unreasonable Personal Standards
9) Oversimplification Of Self By Labeling/Name-Calling
10) Over-Personalization By Seeing Only Yourself As The Cause
Moving-On: Organize Around Shared-Passions & Become A “Regular”:
Find people who like what you like, go hang out with them at the things you like, and discuss!
Anything that gets you out of the digital, into the real, and toward like-minded people who are good should help.
Not every interaction has to be super-serious.
And the more people you talk to, the less crucial any single one becomes.
Start small, find compatibilities, don’t negativize the unknown, and work from there.
Even small-changes over time can make a big difference,
-Like becoming “A Regular” at a few small businesses you like, and learning the names of the people who work there.
See! Norm from “Cheers” really was onto something!
If there’s any place out there where positive, social people get together over what they love,
That’s a new opportunity to knock-back the spectre of Death-By-Loneliness a few percent at a time…
Photo Credits: “Subway”, by Kristin Smith
• PT- The Purpose Of Loneliness
• S. Neuroscience – An fMRI study of loneliness in younger and older adults
• HT – LCD Screens & Social Isolation
• APA – Loneliness Predicts Self-Reported Cold Symptoms After a Viral Challenge [PDF]
• Heart – Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies.
• PsyNeurEndo – Loneliness and Cortisol: Momentary, Day-to-day, and Trait Associations
• GenomeBio – Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes
• PsychNet – Toward A Neurology Of Loneliness
• EatDis. – Emotional overeating and its associations with eating disorder psychopathology among overweight patients with Binge eating disorder
• J.AgingHealth = Association of Alcohol Use and Loneliness Frequency Among Middle-Aged and Older Adult Drinkers
• PersPsySci – Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality
• Heart – Social isolation and loneliness as risk factors for myocardial infarction, stroke and mortality: UK Biobank cohort study of 479 054 men and women
• PT – How Eye Contact Brings You Together (or Pulls You Apart)