Loneliness: How being lonely affects our health, mentally, emotionally and physically

May 2, 2023 | Being Kind to Yourself

Loneliness is increasingly becoming a health problem. As humans, we are created to be social creatures. Living in a world where we social distance, we are continually hurting our health.

I was watching a news show today, and there was a segment about loneliness. And, how it is increasingly becoming a major health problem. I have noted in recent years about the growing concern regarding how loneliness that is affecting people across the globe. During the pandemic, I often spoke that we did not need “social distancing,” as isolating ourselves was not healthy, for our physical, emotional or mental well-being. “Physical distancing,” yes, during the times when people are not feeling well. Starting three years ago, the last thing we needed to do was “social” distance, as it led to more and more of us feeling isolated and lonely. We needed to remain social.

Yet, now, despite the fact that we are more connected than ever before thanks to advances in technology, many people are feeling increasingly isolated and disconnected from others. As humans, we are genetically predisposed to be social beings. In her book “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond,” Lydia Denworth explores “how our bodies and minds are designed for friendship across life stages.” Meaning, we are designed to be social creatures.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress that arises from a lack of meaningful social connections. It is important to note that loneliness is different from being alone. People can be alone but not feel lonely, and they can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by others. Loneliness can be a chronic or temporary state and can range from mild to severe. It is a subjective experience and can be influenced by factors such as personality, life circumstances, and cultural norms.

Causes of Loneliness

So many things can contribute to the feeling of loneliness which include:

Social Isolation: Social isolation occurs when people have limited opportunities to interact with others. This can occur due to factors such as geographic isolation, disability, or social anxiety. Or, in our case, the pandemic.

Changes in Life Circumstances: Major life changes such as retirement, divorce, or the death of a loved one can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Or, we move to a new location for schooling or our employment. There are many factors that could pull us out of our comfort zone where we have friends and family, leading to loneliness.

Technology: While technology can connect people across distances, it can also contribute to feelings of loneliness. Social media, for example, can create an illusion of social connection without providing the benefits of real-life interactions. The more time we spend scrolling through social media, the more we may feel envious of others or like we don’t fit in. These feelings can lead us to isolate more, cutting off what relationships we do have.

Stigma: Loneliness is often stigmatized, and people who are lonely may feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit it.

Consequences of Loneliness

Loneliness can have a range of negative consequences for individuals and society as a whole, including:

  • Mental Health Problems: Loneliness is associated with a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
  • Physical Health Problems: Loneliness is also linked to a range of physical health problems, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and weakened immune function.
  • Reduced Productivity: Lonely people may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and completing tasks, which can lead to reduced productivity at work or school.
  • Social Problems: Loneliness can lead to a range of social problems, including substance abuse, gambling, and other addictive behaviors.

Strategies for Addressing Loneliness

While loneliness can be a difficult problem to recognize and address, there are some strategies that can help.

Building Strong Social Connections: Building strong social connections is one of the most effective ways to combat loneliness. This can involve joining clubs or groups, volunteering, or participating in social activities. Find something you like to do and join in. It doesn’t matter if you know anyone or not. Those with the same interests will find each other and create relationships.

Seeking Professional Help: For people who are struggling with chronic loneliness or mental health problems, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be beneficial. It is good to recognize your loneliness as something that is hurting your health. Seeking help can be a huge factor in your well-being.

Using Technology Wisely: While technology can contribute to feelings of loneliness, it can also be used to connect with others. Using social media to maintain connections with friends and family or using online forums to meet new people can be helpful. Or, finding online support groups can help you feel a part of something bigger.

Addressing Stigma: While this is difficult, especially when you look fine and healthy on the outside. Addressing the stigma associated with loneliness can help people feel more comfortable admitting their feelings and seeking help. This isn’t always easy, but once it is recognized and talked about, it can become easier.

Moving forward

Loneliness is a growing epidemic that is affecting people across the globe. Especially now more than ever. While it can be a difficult problem to recognize, let alone address, there are strategies that can help. Building strong social connections, seeking professional help, using technology wisely, and addressing stigma can all help to combat loneliness and improve the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.

Your mind, body and heart will all be better when you connect with others who are like you.