Sometimes loneliness strikes unexpectedly. Loneliness can come on even if we have a close-knit group of friends or identify as a self-described introvert. Other times, we may desperately want to connect with someone but lack the time, energy or social skills to develop a bond with new or existing friends. Regardless of what triggers our loneliness, it can impact our health in a major way.
There are serious downfalls of spending too much time feeling unwanted. Loneliness often stems from isolation, even when it’s self-inflicted. However, loneliness can also affect people who regularly spend time with a significant other, friends or family members because it comes from inside just as often as it comes from any outside influences. When lonely, we may feel like an outsider in our social group or think that nobody truly understands. True or not, these beliefs can have serious effects on our happiness — and our hearts. Get more details on the health risks of loneliness, and why it's nothing to be taken lightly, below.
Many adults feel pangs of loneliness from time to time, but when those feelings become chronic, they can wreak havoc on more than just the emotions. In fact, loneliness can damage the heart as much as smoking or obesity. A medical study reveals the risk of a heart attack increases by 29% and stroke by 32% for people who regularly experience social isolation, loneliness or both. What’s more, ongoing bouts of loneliness have the same effect on lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
For those with cancer, loneliness also reduces responsiveness to cancer treatments. Even for those who don’t have cancer, loneliness makes it harder for the body to fight off infections and can increase the risk of dementia. Loneliness can even be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease due to its effect on amyloid accumulation. Lonely people may also notice symptoms of arthritis develop or worsen after frequent bouts of loneliness.
Loneliness can affect everyone from kids to teens and adults. The 2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index shows that nearly half of Americans feel lonely or left out at times, and 43% of people feel isolated at times. Nearly 30% of adults confess people rarely if ever, understand them, and around 20% say they hardly ever feel close to others.
Seniors are actually less likely than younger adults to feel lonely or experience involuntary isolation. The index reveals that on average, Millennials (ages 23 to 37) and adults from Generation Z (ages 18 to 22) experience bouts of loneliness more often than other age groups. Adults who interact with others on a daily or weekly basis have lower scores on the loneliness index than people who socialize less frequently.
For those who realize they feel lonely, the obvious remedy is to reach out to someone — or, better yet, do so before those feelings begin. We should all try to build a connection habit. We can invite friends over for lunch, attend a class or religious event, join a club or make plans with family members. Those who need help finding others to socialize with can look into volunteering for programs such as Meals on Wheels or a companionship program such as Befriending. Others might consider using Meetup to find interest groups in their area. One great idea is to call CONTACT or another free helpline to share feelings.
Loneliness can destroy otherwise great health. We should all work to surround ourselves with people who care about our well-being, whether we spend time with friends, family members or people who share our interests. Severe or increasing feelings of loneliness are a real health threat and as such deserve a trip to the doctor or therapist's office. Make defeating loneliness a priority this year.
Copyright 2019, Wellness.com