Health consequences of loneliness
Sometimes we like to be alone. There's little more pleasant than to curl up on the couch with a good book and the window cracked so you can hear the rain, deliciously and endlessly alone. Most of us enjoy some alone time, but when being alone turns into loneliness, it can really eat at your heart. In some cases literally.
In a recent meta analysis conducted at Brigham Young University, researchers found that loneliness was deadlier to participants than obesity, across a surprisingly broad number of categories.
The principal researcher, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad said about the research, “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”
Most of these studies were done in older populations, but research has also found that loneliness isn't a problem for senior citizens alone. Loneliness actually peaks as young adults, and then goes on again to have another spike in older populations. The plain and simple truth is that loneliness is a problem that effects everyone, even millenials.
So what exactly can chronic loneliness do to you?
Loneliness has been linked to a broad number of physical problems. A harvard study found that loneliness could be as dangerous to your heart as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and also raised the risk of stroke and high blood pressure. Depression, risk of drug abuse, and even physical brain changes can all result directly from loneliness. Loneliness can even result in a weaker immune system, causing you to be sicker than you otherwise would be.
Because of this new research, many scientists are recommending that loneliness be treated as seriously as other health problems such as obesity, depression, and similar diseases. If you're suffering from loneliness, there's good news. You can take steps to be less lonely no matter what age you are.
If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, it's important to build a social network that will be there for you. This doesn't have to mean marriage and kids. You can build a social network through a sports club, through forging new friendships, or through taking classes with other people. Meeting new people and new friends can be as simple as being open to those friendships, and finding those friends doesn't have to be hard.
Being open to new friendships can mean a world of difference to your health. Even if you are an introvert and prefer to spend most of your time alone, finding a buddy who enjoys the same thing as you do can still keep you from experiencing the worst of these health problems.
If you've been putting off joining that book club, or find yourself letting go of more friendships than making them, it may be time to consider being more socially active. A strong social network can be good for your health in so many different ways, and may cut your risk of early death by a significant amount. Who knew keeping your coffee date with friends could be so important.