Study suggests loneliness may be a greater health hazard than smoking and obesity

There are two types of people in the world: those who enjoy their own company, and those who cannot find peace even if left alone in a quiet room.

The former is what we commonly know as the people who embrace solitude, those who actually find pleasure and peace being alone. While the latter are those who feel lonely being isolated from social connection, or a lack of a sense of belongingness.

They say that there is healing in solitude. When you have the opportunity to be alone with yourself, and spend time listening to your heart, you will find the answers in life that you have long been looking for.

Enjoying one’s company without the need to do something to keep yourself busy with, is actually healthy for you. It stimulates creativity while refreshing your mind. Hence folks believe that there is richness in solitude.

On the contrary, isolating oneself from any form of social interaction is detrimental to your health. Isolation attracts depression and despair.

It causes a feeling of loneliness, and as Mother Theresa used to say, loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. Although feeling down from time to time is normal and is healthy, an overdue loneliness is not.

According to a study of Brigham Young University conducted in 2010, more than 300,000 participants came to a conclusion that loneliness and social isolation is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

A different study entitled Archives of Internal Medicine done in 2012 supported that loneliness is harmful to one’s health, as per the study, those who constantly feel lonely have  a 56 percent higher risk of developing  functional decline and 45 percent higher risk of dying, as compared to those who don’t.

In a separate research conducted in 2013, it has been reported that loneliness causes health problems because it raises the level of stress hormones in our body, and increases body inflammation as well. In addition, stress hormones and inflammation increases risk of acquiring heart disease, joint pain, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and depression.

According to Dr. Dhruv Khullar of Weill Cornell Medicine in New York city noted that lonely and socially isolated individuals, experience disrupted sleep, have an abnormal immune responses, and have an accelerated cognitive decline. Also, their ability to do basic activities like taking a bath, grooming oneself, preparing meals like breakfast are declining.

Lonely people are also at higher risk of gaining weight and becoming obese. John Cacioppo, a renowned psychologist of University of Chicago, loneliness impairs one’s ability to evaluate oneself. In an observation study, it has been noted that people who scored high on the devised loneliness scale, lonely and isolated people ate significantly more fatty and sweety foods than those who scored low.

Dr. Cacioppo also noted that the reason why lonely people eat foods rich in sugar and fat content is because they want to soothe the pain that they are feeling. And with loneliness crippling one’s self-control, it is very easy to drown oneself in sugary and fatty foods.

Furthermore, the renowned psychologist explained that lonely individuals tend to do everything they can do just to make themselves feel better, even for just a brief moment. They may overeat, develop a thirst for alcohol, and turn to various vices.

According to the research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, there is an estimated amount of a whopping 42.6 million adults over age 45 in America who are suffering from chronic loneliness.

More than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half is unmarried, and the rate of marriage and number of children per home is declining.

As per Hold-Lunstad, this suggests that Americans, and maybe even people around the world, are becoming less interested in making social connections, and keeping socially connected, thus experiencing more loneliness.

With all of the dangers loneliness and isolation pose to our mental and physical well-being, we cannot let this alarming matter left unattended. Loneliness is an emotion, and just like any emotions, it may come and go. Thus, there is no reason to stay being lonely for a prolonged period of time. Here are simple ways we can combat loneliness:

[1] Stop isolating yourself

There is a reason why isolation is a form of punishment- because it evokes negative feelings such as loneliness and despair. There is a reason why the old adage the more the merrier was conceived, because life is better to be experienced with other people. Stop building a wall and start creating bridges of friendship.

There are a lot of ways in which you can reach out to others. If you have a problem and need someone to talk to, there are superb applications available today if you do not fancy the idea of sharing your identity.

You can start talking to people on the internet anonymously, and start making friends from there. Or you can do it the old school way, talk to people around you, smile to those around you. Initate a conversation, you’ll be surprised how approachable people are despite of their looks.

[2] Stop entertaining negative thoughts about yourself

You are what you think. Replace your negative pep talk with yourself. When you look in the mirror, what do you see? What kind of words do you tell yourself? Instead of looking at your flaws and insecurities, why don’t you try focusing on your assets. And while you’re at it, throw in words of encouragement for yourself as well. A simple message of I am beautiful and I can do it to yourself can do wonders!

[3] Be comfortable with your own company

Actually enjoying and finding pleasure being spending time with no one but yourself, is really an enriching and nourishing activity. There is nothing wrong in being at peace by yourself. Indeed human beings are social creatures, but being comfortable in your own company is good as well. It offers an opportunity of self-evaluation and reflection, which is good for your mental health.


[4] Accept loneliness as a feeling instead of a fact

Loneliness is an emotion which is normal. We are humans and we feel multitude of emotions. It is okay and normal to be lonely, it is not everyday that everything goes are way. There are days when the sky will be blue, learn to dance in the rain.

Instead of focusing on the sad feeling evoked by the problems you are facing, why don’t you focus your energy in finding solutions? Although it is hard to keep a positive mindset during hard times, know that everything pass. Whatever problem you are facing will end as well.

[5] Find a hobby that gives your mind a break from ‘thinking’

Develop and nourish a genuine interest on a hobby. It does not need to be a grand hobby, any activity you enjoy doing is okay. You may collect things, or build things, or join sports and yoga. As long as you find satisfaction doing it, then it is good.

Hobbies and interest is healthy for our mind, it gives us a break from all of the buzz that is happening in the world. Even for just a brief moment, all of your energy is focused on your hobby, and you are alone in your own world.

Remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said, Only in the darkness can you see the stars. Let the light rays illuminated from the stars you could see in the darkness, be the hope that will shape your future!

To know more about this topic, watch this video footage brought to you by CBC News: The National.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.