Loneliness just may be the next big health issue. We may think of it as a fleeting emotion, but studies, including one by Brigham Young University, suggest that loneliness, isolation, and living alone can be as threatening to health as cigarettes, excess alcohol, and obesity.
As loneliness penetrates our minds, its side-effects also trickle into our bodies and our spirits. Below we’ll be discussing the surprising ways that loneliness affects our physical and mental well-being.
The subjective feeling of loneliness increases the risk of death by 26%Perspectives on Psychological Science
How Does Loneliness Affect Your Body?
Loneliness can have a profound impact on your body, leading to various physical and physiological changes. Here are a few ways that loneliness affects the body:
- Elevated Blood Pressure
Loneliness has been linked to higher blood pressure, increasing the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular problems.
- Cardiovascular Health
Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The stress and inflammation caused by loneliness can contribute to heart-related issues.
- Altered Gene Expression
Loneliness can affect the expression of certain genes associated with inflammation and immune function. This alteration in gene expression may contribute to the physical health effects of loneliness.
- Pain Perception
Loneliness can alter the perception of physical pain. Some studies suggest that lonely individuals may perceive pain more intensely.
- Sleep Disturbances
Loneliness can lead to sleep disturbances. You may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restorative sleep, which can affect your physical health.
- Hormonal Changes
Loneliness can affect hormonal regulation in the body, potentially impacting appetite, metabolism, and the endocrine system.
Loneliness is associated with increased levels of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Weakened Cognitive Function
Loneliness can lead to cognitive decline, affecting memory, problem-solving abilities, and overall cognitive function.
How Does Loneliness Affect Your Mind?
Loneliness can deeply impact your mind, affecting your cognitive, emotional, and psychological well-being in various ways. These include:
- Depression and Anxiety
Loneliness is closely associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety. The sense of social isolation and disconnection can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worry.
- Decreased Self-Esteem
Loneliness can erode self-esteem. Feeling isolated and disconnected can lead to feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt.
- Emotional Instability
Loneliness can lead to emotional instability, making it difficult to regulate and manage your emotional responses to various situations and interactions. You may be more prone to mood swings and irritability.
- Social Withdrawal
Loneliness can lead to social withdrawal and a reduced willingness to engage in social interactions. This withdrawal can further exacerbate feelings of isolation.
- Lack of Motivation
Loneliness can sap your motivation to engage in activities and connect with others. You may become disinterested in things that once brought you joy.
- Decreased Resilience
Loneliness can reduce your resilience, making it more challenging to bounce back from setbacks and cope with stressors effectively.
- Psychological Distress
Prolonged loneliness can result in psychological distress, including feelings of emptiness, existential anxiety, and a sense of meaninglessness in life.
- Reduced Quality of Life
Loneliness can significantly reduce your overall quality of life by impacting your emotional well-being, relationships, and overall satisfaction.
How Does Loneliness Affect Your Spirit?
While it’s often considered a social or emotional issue, the effects of loneliness can extend to the spiritual dimension of a person’s life. Here are some ways in which loneliness can affect your spirit:
- Lack of Gratitude
Loneliness can make it challenging to feel and express gratitude for the positive aspects of your life. You may become fixated on what’s not going well, undermining your sense of contentment and appreciation.
- Conflict with Values
Loneliness can lead to conflicts between your actions and your core values. You may feel that you’re compromising your values to meet external demands, causing inner conflict and spiritual distress.
- Feeling Disconnected from Others
Loneliness can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from others. You may withdraw from social interactions and feel estranged from your support network, exacerbating your sense of spiritual disconnection.
- Loss of Resilience
Loneliness can diminish your spiritual resilience. Your ability to bounce back from setbacks and challenges may be weakened, leaving you feeling less equipped to navigate life’s ups and downs.
- Diminished Sense of Self
Loneliness may erode your sense of self. You might feel like you’re defined by your loneliness and disconnection, rather than your true self and passions.
- Lack of Mindfulness
Loneliness often disrupts your ability to be present in the moment. You may become preoccupied with worries about the past or fears about the future, making it difficult to engage fully in the present and practice mindfulness.
Chronic loneliness affects our minds and bodies much more than we think. We might believe that we’re better off alone or that we prefer our own company, but all humans benefit from positive social interactions. Overcoming loneliness isn’t easy, especially if you’re lacking a support network. It will require you to step out of your comfort zone and seek connections where you may not have looked before. But it’s a worthwhile step that will boost your health in more ways than you know.