It’s sad to be lonely. Turns out loneliness is bad for your health. Very bad.
According to an article in The Washington Post, it’s been shown that the potential for damage from loneliness is comparable to the dangers of smoking, and even worse than the health effects of obesity and diabetes. Research has found that there is a significant link between loneliness and illness, due to changes in the human genome due to social isolation.
How are loneliness and health linked?
Research links loneliness and health issues:
- Loneliness slows down recovery times.
- Lonely patients are less likely take care of their health, including following medication regimens.
- Lonely people get sick more easily.
- Loneliness can cause depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Conversely, researchers have found that people who have a variety of social relationships can have improved health.
Unfortunately, the US medical community does not generally address loneliness and its impact.
Note that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Loneliness can be defined as a feeling of distress that people have when their ideal vision of a social relationship is not met, including a feeling of being left out.
What can you do?
I suggest the following if you feel lonely:
- Reach out for help. Speak to a therapist, social worker or clergy member.
- Be honest with your doctor about your loneliness.
- Reach out to friends and family for support.
- Consider joining an in-person or on-line support group for people dealing with the same health issues as you.
- Connect with others by joining a group, taking a class, joining a gym, volunteering, etc.
- Don’t judge yourself by the activities and posts you see on social media. No one is posting about the times they are sitting at home watching TV.
If you suspect that someone you know may be lonely:
- If possible, have an honest conversation with him/her about your concern.
- Call and visit as much as you can reasonably do.
- Encourage participation in support groups and social activities.