The Effects of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health

The Effects of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health

The Effects of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health

Obviously, your way of living has an impact on your physical and mental health in a variety of ways.


To give you an example, there are “healthy” eating habits that aren’t really healthy, and there’s the age-old issue of whether or not you’re getting enough sleep.

It’s possible that loneliness, a less visible element of your life is having an effect on your health.


Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, and Dr. Nancy Donovan, a psychiatrist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who specializes in geriatrics and neurology, talked about loneliness among older people. Both have done significant research into the consequences of loneliness, as well as conducting their own studies.


Loneliness has many different definitions, and it’s important to grasp what each one means before going into the negative health consequences that may be caused by it. Subjective loneliness, according to Donovan and Holt-Lunstad, differs from objective loneliness in two ways: The physical condition of being alone or socially isolated is referred to as objective loneliness. Individuals who experience subjective loneliness — as opposed to those who are physically alone — are said to be lonely. Rather than a medical condition, it is an emotional one.


The subjective and unpleasant sensation of a disparity between one’s intended and real degree of social interaction, according to Holt-Lunstad, is what the term refers to.

Loneliness has been linked to a variety of health problems, according to the research discussed below.


It has been shown that loneliness may raise the likelihood of dying young.
Holt-Lunstad published two significant studies that demonstrate the overall impact of loneliness as a risk factor for premature mortality. The first of these research was published in the journal Psychological Science (death that occurs before the average age of death in a certain population).


According to Holt-initial Lunstad’s research, one’s risk for death is affected by one’s social connections as well as other sociodemographic factors such as the size of one’s social network and the perception of social support. According to Holt-Lunstad, the findings of the study, which included over 300,000 participants, revealed that having a low level of social interaction was associated with a risk that was comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. Participants who had better connections were shown to have a 50% greater chance of surviving.


3.4 million people took part in the second research, which examined the effects of perceived loneliness and real, physical social isolation. It discovered that both may result in a 30 percent higher risk of early mortality. According to Holt-Lunstad, this risk outweighs the dangers of obesity, physical inactivity, and air pollution.


Depression may develop as a result of loneliness.

Anxiety, sadness, and psychological well-being

Loneliness, according to Donovan, may be a risk factor for developing depression. The findings of a 2006 research, which looked at the outcomes of two population-based studies of middle-aged to older people, provide evidence of this. Both studies discovered that greater degrees of loneliness were linked with more depressive symptoms, and that this relationship remained persistent throughout one’s lifespan.

Loneliness has been shown to increase inflammation in the body.


bench with a single guy as a work of art

Steve Cole, a professor of medicine, psychiatry, and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, performed a research in 2007 that investigated how genes are expressed differently in individuals who are lonely. Further, the research discovered that a set of genes involved in inflammation — the body’s natural defense mechanism — are more active in those who are lonely.


This is a hereditary response that has been seen over many generations. When we were young, being alone might mean being attacked by a wild animal or another group of people. Our bodies continue to see loneliness and isolation as the danger they were centuries ago. Inflammation is intended to serve as a protective mechanism against infection and damage, but when it occurs in excess, it may result in severe disease such as cancer.


It may be more difficult to engage with people if you are feeling lonely.
Japanese girl alone herself

According to Holt-Lunstad, individuals who report higher levels of loneliness also view social settings as more dangerous. Although this may seem strange at first glance — after all, you would expect people who are lonely to take advantage of chances to make new friends — it is a phenomena that has its origins in evolutionary theory.


Professor John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience explained to CityLab that loneliness raises the stakes of social interaction by motivating people to “repair or replace connections that they feel are threatened or lost.” This, in turn, makes lonely people much more sensitive to social information — both good and bad.


According to him, people are frequently apprehensive of establishing a connection with someone who they believe may turn out to be an adversary because of an evolutionary predisposition. As a result, according to Cacioppo, a brain process leads people who feel lonely to approach social interactions with a high degree of skepticism.



Loneliness raises your chances of developing heart disease.

bed in the hospital
Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease in many studies.
Donovan and Holt-Lunstad both pointed out that loneliness has been related to severe cardiovascular problems in the past. An analysis of 181,000 individuals conducted in 2016 showed that feelings of loneliness and social isolation were linked with a 32 percent increase in the risk of stroke, as well as a 29 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.


It makes it more difficult to cope with stress.

Friends that are there for each other

Taking on the stress of daily life on your own may be more detrimental to your health than taking on the burden with the assistance of others. According to a 2007 research, social support may help to maximize a neurochemical response that helps people cope with stress. Researchers discovered that social support may be able to mitigate environmental and genetic susceptibility to stress.

Furthermore, according to Psychology Today, “lonely persons report greater levels of felt stress even when exposed to the same stressors as non-lonely individuals, and even while they are resting.”


Loneliness may have a negative impact on one’s eating habits.

a lady eating a sandwich in a park
Loneliness may have a role in weight gain or reduction. Photograph courtesy of Daniela Snow on Flickr
Many features of loneliness, according to a 2012 research focused on the connection between eating disorders and loneliness, are associated with many distinct types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, among others. As a result, loneliness may have a role in both weight gain and weight reduction.


According to the findings of the research, people who gain weight often do so as a means of numbing the emotions of loneliness they are experiencing.

It is possible that this is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Golden Years for the Elderly
Loneliness has been shown to be a precursor to cognitive impairment. MIKE BAKER/REUTERS
Donovan performed a research in which he looked at 79 community-dwelling older people and discovered that those who had greater levels of a protein called amyloid also reported a lack of companionship as well as more frequent feelings of loneliness.

A large number of experts think that amyloid buildup in the brain is the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease. 


This hypothesis proposes that the amyloid molecule interferes with communication between brain cells and ultimately destroys those cells, resulting in the cognitive loss that is typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

Loneliness may make you more vulnerable to the symptoms of a cold or the flu.
tissues for the ill, the cold, and the flu
Loneliness does not increase your chances of getting a cold, but it does increase your likelihood of experiencing symptoms. 
According to a 2017 research, those who are lonely are more likely to have cold-like symptoms. The participants in the research were exposed to the common cold virus and then confined in a hotel room for five days.



Not everyone became ill, but among those who did, those who described themselves as lonely were almost three times more likely to have more severe symptoms.

Separately, a 2007 research performed by both Cacioppo and Cole discovered that lonely people’s immune systems are more focused on fighting bacteria than viruses, making them more vulnerable to viral infections.


It has the potential to lead to additional harmful habits.

consuming the flesh off chicken wing
Friends or spouses can assist you in making better choices. According to Shutterstock Holt-Lunstad, having good connections in your life may encourage you to participate in healthy habits like as eating better, getting enough sleep, exercising, and seeing the doctor when necessary.



According to the findings of a 2010 research on social connections and their relationship to health behavior, relationships may have an impact on behavior in both good and bad ways. A reduction in the probability of engaging in hazardous behaviors such as smoking, drug use, and excessive drinking, for example, is noted in the research. Married people have been shown to have reduced death rates, which the research claims is typically linked to better lifestyle choices.



In the research, individuals who had a roommate, spouse, or children were less likely to participate in drug misuse, implying that those who did not have these types of connections in their lives may be more prone to engage in this kind of activity.

When people are separated from one another because of the coronavirus, the health hazard of loneliness holds significance.

76-year-old Dan Blazer and his wife were staying at home in North Carolina when their neighbors, a couple in their 50s, reached out to them through email last week to reassure them that they were not alone in their efforts. To confirm their reservation, another couple called.



The couple is in their late 60s and are “absolutely healthy and independent,” Blazer said. Nonetheless, he’s been feeling a little lonely lately, and he appreciated the extra effort you made.


Knowing that these individuals exist makes a significant impact, according to him.

The consequences of loneliness and isolation are well-known to Blazer, who has studied them for years as a psychiatrist and epidemiologist at Duke University. On his behalf, he headed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s committee on social isolation and loneliness among older people, which published a 281-page study on the subject last month.


 According to the findings of the study, loneliness is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, dementia, high cholesterol, diabetes, and overall bad health. Alcohol and cigarette usage as well as physical inactivity are more common among those who feel lonely.



While Blazer does not agree with the public health consensus, he believes that the greatest thing you can do for yourself and your community during the Covid-19 epidemic is to isolate yourself. “However, the ramifications of doing so may be catastrophic,” according to Blazer, if done by certain people.



Absolute social isolation is a harsh punishment that prisons use on a regular basis, in the most extreme form. Loneliness, or the unpleasant sense of not having meaningful relationships with people, has been shown in many studies to have significant health consequences, even in daily life.



It was 1979 when the American Journal of Epidemiology published one of the first studies of this kind. Using data from nearly 7,000 people in California’s Alameda County over a nine-year period, researchers discovered that death rates were twice as high among those who lacked social and community ties, even after accounting for factors such as health, socioeconomic status, smoking, physical activity level, and other factors that could influence lifespan.



Another study, conducted in 2010, examined 148 research that included more than 300,000 people in the United States and found that the more isolated someone is, the greater their chance of dying. Loitering may be as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University and the study’s lead author.




In contrast, little research has been done on the loneliness that may arise from purposeful self-isolation in order to protect oneself or another.

‘Psychologically, a crucial feature of loneliness is that the individual who feels lonely is experiencing that emotion in contrast to the rest of the group,’ according to Jonathan Kanter, director of the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection.



“The current situation is different; we are all isolating at the same time and even experiencing a sense of unity as a result of this.” As Kanter put it, “We’re in the midst of a huge social experiment, and we’re not sure to what degree the findings of previous studies apply.”

Physical separation, rather than social distancing, he believes would be a better phrase.

“Even when we separate ourselves from one another, there are methods to remain connected,” he said.



It’s also unclear how loneliness manifests itself over time – when it begins, how often it occurs, or at what point its psychological and physical consequences begin to manifest themselves. Despite this, experts are worried that if loneliness is not handled during the pandemic, it would have a negative impact on the survivors.

The chronic levels of these chemicals, according to Holt-Lunstad, are strongly predictive of the consequences.



The feeling of loneliness may make a person more vulnerable to disease when it does hit. In a 2003 study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh polled 304 adult volunteers about their social activities before placing them in hotel rooms and exposing them to a cold virus to see how they responded. More social connections were associated with a lower risk of symptoms developing in those who had more contacts. Volunteers were exposed to a cold virus as part of another study conducted by one of those researchers.



 More severe and persistent symptoms were observed by those who had lived a more socially isolated lifestyle. In another study, researchers at the Ohio State University discovered that when individuals who are socially isolated are intentionally stressed, their immune systems are more prone to produce harmful inflammation.




According to the NASEM study, the evidence base for treatments to fight loneliness that may benefit people who are presently isolated is “less strong,” mostly due to the absence of control groups in many research. Phone calls, video conferences, and social media platforms have all been compared to in-person interactions, but little study has been done on how they compare to them. 


For that matter, how about singing out the window, participating in well-spaced dinosaur parades, playing Words with Friends, or even engaging with a robot designed to converse with old people? He is now working on a meta-analysis of medically developed treatments to fight loneliness in older people, which he hopes to complete by the end of 2018.




Excessive screen time has been found to be detrimental for young people in certain studies, but the types of screen time and contacts with strangers have been linked to the majority of reported damage. Nevertheless, the coronavirus epidemic has confounded the risk-benefit analysis..

As Kanter, the University of Washington researcher, said, “During regular times, I’m working very hard to assist individuals with disconnecting because I understand the importance of live contacts.” “I’ve changed my mind since it isn’t an option right now.”

When are we going to be able to take a breather? Related: 



The methods developed by health professionals are intended to allow coronavirus lockdowns to be relaxed safely.
Virtual interactions with mental health professionals, such as video conferencing, chats, and phone conversations with friends and family, are endorsed by Kanter and other loneliness specialists. To assist their parents in getting online, children may function as their parents’ de facto information technology department.




NASEM report reviewer Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, stated, “There is strong evidence across a lot of studies that older people do well with being online if they perceive the value in it.” Fried was also a reviewer for the NASEM report.

The findings of Kanter’s study on loneliness, like those of other loneliness experts, have given him reason to be optimistic.

People are doing this instinctively, which is a good thing. They’re acting in the manner of individuals who are deprived of social interaction. His response was, “I think it’s fantastic.”




Experts are urging the general people to explore new avenues for feeling more connected to one another. Join one of the local chat groups that are being established by communities all across the nation, or build your own from the ground up! Every day, make a call to someone. Join a “unlonely” film group to avoid feeling lonely. 




Help your neighbors with their computers by providing remote assistance. Once things have calmed down, there is a genuine and proven advantage to maintaining these relationships..

In the words of Blazer, who served as head of the NASEM committee, “[this scenario] may serve as a catalyst for greater awareness of how lonely anybody may be.” The report also suggests that collective attempts to reach out to individuals in order to avoid this problem may be re-energized if the issue is brought to light.