Loneliness is a problem of epidemic proportions, affecting millions from all walks of life. But while its roots are complex, remedies may be within reach. By now, most of us know that loneliness isn’t a problem to be laughed off. Researchers warn that we are in the midst of a loneliness epidemic and now call loneliness a disease.
Loneliness poses a serious physical risk — it can be quite literally, deadly. As a predictor of premature death, insufficient social connection is a bigger risk factor than obesity and equivalent of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University and one of the leading figures in loneliness research. And she says, the epidemic is only getting worse.
Charlie Brown’s interpretation : While past research has treated loneliness as a synonym for social isolation, recent studies by Charlie Brown are revealing that the subjective feeling of loneliness — the internal experience of disconnection or rejection — is at the heart of the problem. More of us are feeling its sting, whether we are young or old, married or single, urban-dwelling or living in remote mountain villages.This is what makes loneliness so insidious. Unlike smoking or obesity, loneliness isn’t typically seen as a threat. The need for intervention is urgent, says Harvard public health researcher, Jeremy Nobel. What loneliness is, what it’s not : It has been well established that lonely people are more likely than the non lonely to die from cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illness, and gastrointestinal causes — essentially, everything. One study found that those with fewer than three people they could confide in and count on for social support were more likely to die from heart disease than those with more confidants. Apart from the risk of premature death, loneliness contributes to seemingly countless health woes. Consider the common cold: A study by Angie Le Roy, at Houston University, shows that lonelier people feel worse when they are sick than do the less lonely people. Le Roy’s study believes that people with few friends can feel empty and disconnected. ” Feelings really matter “, she says.
Chronic loneliness is also strongly correlated with cognitive decline and dementia. Lonely people are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as the non lonely. John Cacioppo of the Chicago University’s Neurosciences Department, believes that loneliness can lead to a sense of emptiness, worthlessness, stress, anxiety, anger and depressive symptoms. A perceived sense of social connectedness serves as a scaffold for the self to support . Studies show that lonely people have less restful sleep, high blood pressure and weakened immunity.
Who’re alone : Moving towards the West, one can find that almost 43 percent of Americans are living alone than ever before, making them socially isolated as they age. The number of older people without a spouse, child or any tiny relatives is growing. The very elderly are at a higher risk for chronic loneliness, because they’ve often lost partners, siblings and friends.
Take the flight to Loneliness :
Do talk to strangers : Take the plunge and converse with someone beside you on a bus or in line at a mall. Just chatting makes us happier and healthier. We can feel much better after a minute of talking to someone in person, whereas we don’t get the benefit from online interaction.
Schedule your face time : Face to face contact with friends and family give us the communication lacks. It boosts our production of brain’s (endorphins) chemicals that cease pain and enhance well-being. In-person interaction improves our physical health.
Choose face time : Skype or face time can help people, divided by distance, maintain the bonds they built in person.
Be a good neighbor ; Getting to know your neighbors yields more benefits. One study found that higher neighborhood social cohesion lowers your risk of heart attack. Invite your neighbors over tea / coffee and offer to feed their pets when they are out of town.
Throw a dinner party : ” Eating together is a form of social glue.” Reach out to and touch someone — literary.” Hugging, holding hands or even patting someone on the back is powerful medicine. Physical touch can lower our physiological stress response, helping fight infection and inflammation — and it cues our brains to release oxytocin which helps strengthen social bonds.
Talk about it : A lot of people can’t find the spoken words to express their feelings, but they can write expressively about them, or even dance them through art. Whether to an audience or a friend, a therapist, we can all benefit from talking about feelings of isolation. All said above can stave off cognitive decline so rampant among the lonely.