Loneliness Could Have Extremely Harmful Effects on Health – Much Worse Than Obesity or Smoking
In the past decade, researchers have been trying to establish a link between social isolation and various psychological issues, but studies have shown that the implications of loneliness go well beyond mental health. In fact, loneliness could be considered as a life-threatening medical issue with more harmful effects on overall health than obesity or smoking.
Loneliness Can Shorten Your Life Expectancy
In 2013, a research discovered that loneliness increases the stress hormones in our body and causes inflammation that can result in serious health conditions like heart diseases, diabetes and depression. Researcher and physician Dr. Dhruv Khullar, from Weill Cornell Medicine, reported that some of his older patients who classified themselves as socially isolated showed irregular sleep patterns, and rapidly decreasing cognitive functions.
Loneliness also affected their ability to carry out routine tasks like preparing meals and bathing. Over the course of six years, the researchers observed a significantly higher death rate among the group of people who were socially isolated in comparison to their socially active counterparts. Scientists are calling loneliness a growing epidemic that isn’t just affecting the older population but also the younger generation.
Difference Between Loneliness and Social Isolation
Some may think that social isolation and loneliness mean the same thing but experts consider them as two different concepts, although, having similar health risks. Those who are socially isolated have fewer friends and connections whereas those who experience loneliness may just have a subjective perception of isolation despite having several relationships. The two concepts can be mutually exclusive since social isolation can be a choice which may not necessarily result in loneliness.
Similarly, loneliness can even be experienced by the most socially active. Researchers have found a link between loneliness and poor social interaction to some degree but it isn’t always the case with everyone. Those who feel lonely despite being surrounded by people often complain that their relationships are not emotionally fulfilling and by advising them to be more socially active will not solve the problem.
Is Social Media the Problem?
Social interaction is considered a basic human need which means that both intentional and unintentional isolation are considered equally dangerous for health. Harvard recently published a study involving 79 participants who had to take an assessment to measure their level of isolation. The result showed that those who experienced loneliness were exposed to a risk of Alzheimer’s due to the amount of a chemical in their brains called Amyloid which is considered a major preclinical sign of the disease.
Some consider social media to be the culprit behind this growing epidemic. Most of today’s generation is active on different social media platforms and spends several hours a day interacting with friends over the internet. On the surface, it may seem like people are becoming more socially active with the increasing use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but the reality is quite the opposite. Most of the internet friendships are not emotionally rewarding due to their superficial nature.
Other Ways Social Isolation Can Affect Quality of Life
The objective state of isolation may be problematic for one’s health in several unconventional ways as well. For one, these people tend to have no one around them to rely on in case of an accident or an illness. People who prefer isolation often fail to practice self-maintenance and hygiene due to a lack of motivation or accountability from others. In contrast, people who are more socially active tend to eat well, exercise more and look after their general health, therefore indirectly improving their mental and physical health.
People who experience loneliness or depression are often advised to get out of their homes and participate in social activities such as taking a class to learn a new skill, joining the gym or getting a pet. There are several volunteer programs that are dedicated to building relationships with people who experience loneliness, anxiety or depression. Although these programs do improve the individuals’ level of depression and loneliness, they do not offer a long-term solution to the problem.
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