Everyone knows the health risks of obesity, how it leads to a myriad of harmful health conditions, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and worst of all, death.
However, few people know that being lonely and socially isolated is much worse for physical health than being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, an astonishing fact backed by research. Studies show that loneliness and social isolation increases the risk of early death by more than 80%, heart disease by 29%, stroke by 30%, and dementia by 40%.
Almost half of all Americans say that they feel alone and isolated. Although you might assume that this pretty much only affects older people who have limited mobility and fewer opportunities for interaction, It is also affecting young people between the ages of 18 and 37.
What Happens in Your Body When You’re Lonely?
Experts believe that being socially isolated triggers a never-ending fight or flight response in the body, making the body feel like it’s constantly under attack, raising cortisol levels and causing inflammation. Inflammation is a good thing when your body is fighting disease, but too much weakens the immune system and leads to severe illnesses.
With regard to mental health, loneliness causes you to miss out on the mood-boosting benefits of social company. This can lead to depressive symptoms creating a self-reinforcing loop whereby being alone makes you feel depressed, and being depressed makes you want to be alone.
On a behavioral level, loneliness makes you likelier to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking, workaholicism, alcoholism, etc. And since you’re not accountable to anyone, you feel you can do whatever you wish. Unfortunately, doing whatever you want is rarely good for your health.
How to Be Less Lonely
Random acts of kindness
One way to feel less lonely is to lose yourself in the service of others. Volunteer for a good cause or do kind things for the people in your life. Nothing improves a social connection quite like offering to help.
Quality over quantity
If you’re surrounded by people but still feel alone, you may want to shift your focus from quantity to quality. One authentic conversation with someone close to you does more for your emotional wellness than lots of small talk with several acquaintances. Similarly, instead of just texting a friend, give them a call or, better still, make plans to meet up for lunch.
If you suffer from social anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues that make you want to isolate yourself from social situations, seek professional help. A therapist will help you work through your challenges and give you the support you need to reconnect with friends and family.
Social wellness plays a huge role in your physical and emotional health. Therefore, anything that improves your social relationships, including doing random acts of kindness for others, having a long conversation with a close friend, or seeking professional help to deal with social anxiety, is also good for your physical and mental health.
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