A universal human emotion, loneliness can be unique and complex based on each individual. While the psychological effects of loneliness are well documented, a growing body of research has also shown physical effects. To better understand how loneliness can impact your physical and emotional health, learn the risks of social isolation.
Studies Raise Concern
Research has clearly demonstrated that loneliness can affect immunity, heart health and stress; however, it can also impact our health indirectly. Because lonely people are more prone to addictions and risky behavior, they are at a higher risk for chronic illness and even STDs. Studies also indicate that socially-isolated people are more likely to suffer from the following:
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Depression and suicide
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision-making
- Decreased memory and learning
- Alcoholism and drug abuse
- Altered brain function
- Alzheimer’s disease
What Is the Cause?
It’s not clear why loneliness heightens the risk of disease and mental disorders. Most experts believe it has something to do with increased inflammation due to stress and anxiety. Because it stimulates brain function, social interaction can also help ward off age-related mental decline and mental health disorders. A strong social support network can also be crucial during tough times, whether you’ve suffered a job loss, the death of a loved one, chronic illness or a bad day at work.
While loneliness impacts everyone, specific effects and treatments vary based on the individual. A recently-widowed elderly man has different needs than a lonely child who is struggling to make friends. With that said, most people benefit from building social support networks related to volunteer work, family interaction, online support or by going back to school.
If your loneliness is accompanied by addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression or social anxiety, medications and therapy can help. Talk to your doctor about your feelings and make a plan to alter your lifestyle to promote a greater sense of social belonging.