Don’t Let Loneliness Make You Sick

Lonely Bench by Mezuss

Lonely Bench by Mezuss

Loneliness doesn’t just hurt emotionally, but physically, too. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive. How can a feeling have tangible, physical effects on our health? It’s “just” a feeling. Well, research has proven that logic wrong.

According to Slate.com:

“Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely.

The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity.

Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease. Loneliness is breaking our hearts, but as a culture we rarely talk about it.”

And if you think you’re the only one lonely, you’re not alone. Slate.com says:

“Loneliness has doubled: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, up from 20 percent in the 1980s.”

In the age of the Internet, sites like Facebook and Twitter have become wildly popular. Facebook users say that they like to connect with others online, sharing their lives with their personal online communities. But there is an intimacy that is lacking in online connections, and some people, including researchers, are slowly realizing it.  There is a hole in our hearts, and internet-based social networking has proven insufficient to fill it.

“All of our Internet interactions aren’t helping and may be making loneliness worse. A recent study of Facebook users found that the amount of time you spend on the social network is inversely related to how happy you feel throughout the day.

Even those “popular” users who have upwards of 1,000 “Facebook friends” are not faring any better than those with less.

“In terms of human interactions, the number of people we know is not the best measure. In order to be socially satisfied, we don’t need all that many people. According to Cacioppo the key is in the quality, not the quantity of those people. We just need several on whom we can depend and who depend on us in return.”

In my own opinion, it’s perfectly ok to connect with people online. It can be truly fun and rewarding, especially when you can interact with like-minded people who care about the same things you do. I think blogging is wonderful, and I love to do it. But if you are very lonely, don’t rely solely on your computer to fill that need. Make friends outside of the internet- those friendships will be even more rewarding because you can see the person’s facial expressions when they talk, hug them, hang out with them, and in general have a real human connection that you can never get online. Pets are great, too, for the bond and unconditional love they provide.

The mind and body are deeply connected. What you think and feel mentally has a profound impact on your physical self. So taking care of any emotional or psychiatric problems you may face is very important to your overall well being.

For more on studies about loneliness, go to Slate.com.

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12 thoughts on “Don’t Let Loneliness Make You Sick

  1. A thoughtful post Tanya with a precuationary message mixed with some sad statistics about so many people who struggle with loneliness. I liked the part about the importance of quality of friendships, over the quantity, and also your conclusion about the importance of face to face relationships, even though there are unique joys and rewards through internet connectedness . . . this alone will never replace the human connection, the human touch. Thank you for posting this research and commentary as a reminder. Best regards Bruce

  2. There is also a huge connection between your physical health and your emotional well being. From a simple cold to cancer to death all have an emotional component
    which is a trigger. And if you become aware of that connection much can be done to alter your physical condition. I’m not saying that it is simple but I am saying it can be done.
    Great post, Tanya. Thanks.

    • It’s definitely true that when you are physically sick, it can make you feel emotionally depressed. So you are right, it does go both ways. Thanks for the comment!

  3. While the number of people with whom I engage directly, in person, on a fairly regular basis would be considered laughably small by some, especially since I removed myself from the world of work, those few offer far more comfort than my on-line ‘communities’. They can never provide an adequate substitute for someone as tactile as I am.

    Thanks for posting this; it’s a very underappreciated issue, especially regarding its impact on the elderly.

  4. you hit the mark with this post. I live in France and we are as isolated as can be. The odd thing is other English in the area are so unfriendly.. Most a dreadfully depressed whatever the age and just won’t make an effort.. We have been here for 8 years in our beautiful prison. We have our house on the market and will sell i suppose sometime in the new two years, depending on the awful French housing market which has flopped. We intend to go to the USA to a very active retirement community. We can’t wait.. fondly eve

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