Does Loneliness Affect Our Health
We have seen throughout time that we as a species seem to congregate into communities and our communities have formed into towns and now cities; which leads us to the conclusion that we must be drawn together for a reason.
We find in studies that when we are in seclusion our mental health as well as our physical health suffer. This has been shown many times over in study after study.
“Individuals who lack social connections or report frequent feelings of loneliness tend to suffer higher rates of morbidity and mortality (Brummett et al. 2001; Seeman 2000; Uchino, Cacioppo, and Kiecolt-Glaser 1996), as well as infection (Cohen et al. 1997; Pressman et al. 2005), depression (Heikkinen and Kauppinen 2004), and cognitive decline (Barnes et al. 2004; Wilson et al. 2007)”
Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health Among Older Adults
Using data from the Leave Behind Questionnaire of the Health and Retirement Study
Loneliness was associated with higher odds of mental health problems s and isolation was associated with higher odds of one’s health as being affected.
Think about your own life situations. When do you feel you most happy? When do you feel most lost or alone? When I think about my own life I admit that I feel happiest when in deep connection with like minded and “kindred spirits” and I feel the most disconnected and lonely when I am not involved with friends and family, when I find myself more solitary for long periods of time. (This is not the solitary that we all need from time to time being overwhelmed, overstimulated or simply needing some “me” time) I also notice that when I go through those periods of time, I find myself pulling further and further away, making it more challenging for those in my life to reach out to me and of course this exacerbates the situation even though I feel like that’s what I am wanting at the time.
General health mediates the relationship between loneliness, life satisfaction and depression
“Life satisfaction is negatively and significantly correlated with suicidal attitudes, loneliness and depression; and positively with health, which is negatively and significantly correlated with depression and loneliness. Self-concept was negatively correlated with loneliness and depression, depression was positively and significantly correlated with loneliness. Mediational analyses showed that the effects of loneliness and life dissatisfaction on depression were fully mediated by health.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology February 2007, Volume 42, Issue 2 Written by: Viren Swami, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Dhachayani Sinniah, Thambu Maniam, Kumaraswami Kannan, Debbi Stanistreet, Adrian Furnham
Loneliness has been shown to predict increased morbidity and mortality (reviewed in Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). The effects of loneliness seem to accrue over time to accelerate physiological aging and mortality. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine
2013 Edition Written by: Louise C. Hawkley and John T. Cacioppo
Two Hearts and the Path to Heartful Living
Without loving companionship, human beings are more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and other illness. Research supporting this conclusion comes from many directions.
“An early Israeli study of 10,000 married men with heart disease found that one simple questionnaire item had a dramatic moderating effect, even in the presence of high cholesterol, electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities and high anxiety. Among those men who said “Yes” to the question “Does your wife show you her love?” only 52% developed angina. Among the group who said “No” to the same question, 93% developed angina.!”
Similarly, James Lynch, in his book The Broken Heart, The Medical Consequences of Loneliness showed that the loss of a partner and chronic isolation are significant contributors to cardiovascular illness and sudden death. Conversely, Lynch showed that human touch lowered heart rate and blood pressure. Dean Ornish also garnered an impressive array of evidence that good relationships support cardiovascular health.
Knowing this brings us to the real issue. How do we avoid find ourselves in this situation?
This is where the hard work comes in. All those sayings “learn to love yourself”, “learn to meditate” ,“learn to let go” they actually play a bigger role in health than we ever thought possible.
Yep! That’s right! When we learn to take care of ourselves we are showing those around us what we need and how to care for us as well. The old adage “put your mask on first and then put your loved ones’ mask on” still holds true.
Studies show that meditation alone is associated with improvement in a variety of psychological areas, including stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders and cognitive function, PTSD, Fibromyalgia, IBS. There’s also research suggesting that meditation reduces blood pressure, pain response, stress hormone levels and even cellular health. There have been many studies showing that meditation actually changes the structure of the brain over time as well as reduced cortisol levels.
Loving-kindness meditation, is a practice of developing positive feelings, first toward yourself and then toward others. Metta increases positivity, empathy and compassionate behavior toward others. Meditation also helps develop mental discipline and willpower and can help you avoid triggers for unwanted impulses. This can help you recover from addiction, lose weight and redirect other unwanted habits.
Exercise has been shown to improve mood, decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, as well as showing changes in the brain regulating stress and anxiety. It also increases brain sensitivity for serotonin and norepinephrine, which are depression relieving hormones. Not to mention the endorphins, produced that help with positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain
Furthermore, exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. It can also help create more awareness of our mental state and more security from the stress in our lives.
Exercising regularly, every day if possible, is the single most important thing you can do for your health. In the short term, exercise helps to control appetite, boost mood, and improve sleep. In the long term, it reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, and many cancers. Health & Fitness, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School
Though it’s ok to be alone. It’s now known that being alone too often can lead to loneliness and ultimately affect our entire health. The key here is…moderation and balance! If we take care of ourselves our body and our mind are more at peace and will in turn take care of us.
It is my firm belief that loneliness is a symptom of a fractured community. This idea that we must do everything alone has taken over the modern age and is a fallacy! We are stronger when we stand on the shoulders of those before us, we are stronger when we have a support team, we are stronger when we can see a loving reflection from others that are genuine, authentic and supportive.
Loneliness has become a modern ailment. Our ancestors did not have the same issues of disconnection as we face today. Even though our ancestors were alone much more than we may find ourselves today, they had a sense of family and community that we are lacking in our modern world.
I believe it is time to create this again! It’s time to stand together in unity and support. It’s time to build each other up! There is no one more unique than you! There is no competition! There is only opportunity to grow!
What do you want your life to look like?