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Loneliness

The Epidemic of Loneliness

Though our need to connect is innate, many of us frequently feel alone. Even some people who are surrounded by others throughout the day—or are in a long-lasting marriage—still experience a deep and pervasive loneliness.

Feelings of loneliness and isolation affect all types and ages of people, although some, like adolescents, are more likely to be impacted than others. The elderly are also at high risk. Research indicates that more than 20 percent of people over age 60 frequently feel intensely lonely.

Suffering from loneliness is somewhat like suffering from physical pain: In one study, brain scans of lonely individuals who received a dose of Tylenol showed reduced activity in pain-processing areas of the brain. In addition, loneliness can heighten the fight-or-flight response—the physiological reaction a person has when facing a threat.

Can Loneliness Make You Sick?

Feelings of isolation can have a serious detrimental effect on one's mental and physical health. Loneliness can be a risk factor for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, among other critical diseases. Lonely people are also twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

At the root, isolation compromises immunity, increases the production of stress hormones, and is harmful to sleep. All of this feeds chronic inflammation, which lowers immunity to the degree that lonely people even suffer more from the common cold. Loneliness can be a chronic stress condition that ages the body and causes damage to overall well-being.

CONNECTED TOPICS

Depression, Anxiety

Dealing With Loneliness

Loneliness has both an emotional and a situational dimension. While both need to be addressed to overcome loneliness and connect with others, the subjective perception of loneliness is often the dominant factor. People with only a few friends can feel fulfilled; people with vast social networks can feel lonely. For this reason, it is important that those experiencing loneliness challenge their feelings and acknowledge the likely transience of those feelings, while also taking concrete steps to strengthen connections to others.

It can be difficult to meet new people, especially for the elderly. But reaching out to people who are in close proximity, as well as to weak ties in one's social network, is a good start. Those experiencing acute loneliness may benefit from speaking to mental health professional who can help tailor strategies for coping and for meeting others.

CONNECTED TOPICS

Anxiety, Social Networking

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