Consequences of Loneliness

Do you struggle with loneliness?

The lack of social interaction and inter-personal connecting with others can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Loneliness and Isolation

Naturally, all of us have experienced the feeling of loneliness and isolation at one time or another. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Taking time to retire from the cares and stresses of our busy lives can serve as a much-needed re-boost, allowing us to reengage with our personal and professional affairs with new energy and perspective.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Solitude is naught and society is naught. Alternate them and the good of each is seen.” In other words, balancing our need for alone time with social interaction is key to ensuring a healthy, balanced life.

Unfortunately, many of us are experiencing an imbalance in the direction of loneliness and isolation. Whether due, as some believe, to the advent of impersonal technologies in our increasingly digital and online world or other factors, there is a very real epidemic of loneliness in our country today.

Negative Effects of Loneliness

In a paper from January 2019, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration said that “Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day” along with chronic conditions like obesity. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that “Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.

“The lack of connection can have life-threatening consequences”, said Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, who testified before the U.S. Senate in April, 2017 “that the problem is structural as well as psychological.”

This is a multi-generational problem. Over 43% of American seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis, with a 45% increase in mortality rate among those seniors reporting loneliness. And, with the likelihood of an upswing of social isolation due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, it is even more important to be aware of the dangers to mental and physical health prolonged loneliness can pose.

Necessities to Survive

Shocking as it may seem, none of this information should be surprising. We all know that we are social creatures by nature. Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1972) in his well-known Hierarchy of Needs, identified belonging as the most important necessity to our survival after food, water, shelter and our immediate physical safety was taken care of. Relationships, or the belonging component of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, is also the most difficult imperative that most of us experience as human beings, with its complex and interconnected psychological, neurological, biochemical, and emotional components.

Unhealthy Trade-Off

Though many of us may be aware on an intellectual level of the negative effects of being in unhealthy relationships, the unconscious, emotional drive for belonging can override our conscious reasoning, leading us to stay in relationships that are not conducive to our well being. Being in relationships that feel bad is unhealthy and not happy – and not being in relationships with others can also feel bad, unhealthy and not happy. This is the reason why many individuals will remain in unhealthy situations even though they do not want to continue in a dysfunctional relationship.

Depressed Functioning

The negative effects of depression are becoming more apparent through growing research. In numerous studies, loneliness (especially in the elderly) has been shown to have a significant impact on an individual’s health and well-being in addition to their feeling of being valued or loved. Depression is a real problem for those experiencing loneliness. Depression has an immediate impact on an individual’s health and ability to function. According to Healthline, among the most prominent effects of depression, which affects 26% of Americans, are:

  • Insomnia
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Feelings of dependency
  • Weakened immunity
  • Decreased sex drive

Ways to Alleviate Loneliness

Along with more traditional ways of achieving beneficial social interaction, such as attending church or joining a faith community (which has been shown to positively boost health) and utilizing social technologies like FaceTime and Google Hangout, there are a number of effective strategies to alleviate loneliness. Pet ownership has increased dramatically over the last 10 years in the U.S. Pets can eliminate the sense of being “alone” or lonely and have proven to have healing effects on individuals of all ages and all stages of illness.

Even our relationships with plants can help us to feel less alone and caring for them provides a sense of purposeful work and fulfillment, along with helping to naturally boost our mood. Additionally, lifestyle choices such as regular exercise and eating a plant-based, whole food diet can reduce symptoms of depression, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.


The Loneliness Epidemic

The Effects of Depression in Your Body

Harvard Study: Going to Church Boosts Health

The Health Benefits and Risks of Pet Ownership

Exercise, Depression, and the Brain

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