Loneliness has been said to be a precursor to depression and some other physical and mental illnesses.
Experts therefore stress the need to alleviate loneliness early on in a sustained way that will be considerably beneficial to your health and, as much as possible, enable you to avoid depression or any more serious health issues.
Before COVID-19, many people already knew the impact of loneliness; but the social distancing that further confined people to their spaces might have made longstanding loneliness to severely affect both our mental and physical health.
Indeed, research shows that people who feel lonely have more health problems, feel worse and perhaps die at an earlier age.
Writing about loneliness in The Conversation, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Michigan State University, Jed Magen, notes that social isolation resulted in a 50 percent increase in premature death, based on a research by Brigham Young University scientists.
Magen said, as humans, we evolved to be around others; warning that loneliness and social isolation are also associated with increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, depression and, if that weren’t bad enough, decreases in cognitive abilities and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to online platform, Country Living, feelings of chronic loneliness can be triggered by a lot of life’s experiences, such as living alone for the first time, a break-up or divorce, or, now that COVID-19has changed a lot of things, working from home, among others.
Yet, stress from feeling disconnected and alone can result in depression, anxiety and even cardiovascular troubles like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease, experts warn.
According to experts, there are at least, seven physical symptoms caused by loneliness. They are as follow:
If you are regularly feeling lonely, a key indicator might be that social events leave you feeling burned out, emotionally drained or mentally exhausted.
“In terms of mental health, lonely individuals are more prone to depression and anxiety, particularly social anxiety. It also puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” Dr Kalpa Kharicha, Head of Innovation, Policy and Research at Campaign to End Loneliness, says.
High blood pressure
“There is strong evidence that loneliness can also have an adverse effect on physical health too. This is probably a consequence of the stress that is experienced through loneliness which results in higher levels of natural steroids,” Ashley says.
“This can cause high blood pressure and elevated levels of cholesterol which results in higher levels of cardiovascular disease. It has been estimated that living with loneliness is equivalent to the effect of smoking a packet of cigarettes each day and that it puts people at a 50 per cent increased risk of death.”
Insomnia, disrupted sleep or other sleep-related issues may all be physical symptoms of loneliness. Another sign is sleeping too much; often when people are feeling sad, or in this case lonely, many turn to sleep as a way to block out how they feel.
According to previous research published in the journal Sleep, loneliness can wreck the chances of getting a restful night’s sleep. “What we found was that loneliness does not appear to change the total amount of sleep in individuals, but awakens them more times during the night,” lead author Lianne Kurina, PhD, said. “When you feel lonely, you show more micro-awakenings.”
Loss of confidence
“Loneliness is an emotional response to an unwanted situation. Over time, loneliness can affect confidence and self-esteem and make people withdraw from others – and end up avoiding situations that may help reduce feelings of loneliness,” Dr Kalpa adds.
Loss of appetite and exercising
Some signs of loneliness also include a loss of appetite and not finding the motivation to exercise. Dr Kalpa tells us: “Lifestyle related, i.e. people may take less care over eating well/healthily, may not exercise as much as they should, more likely to smoke and we know these have a negative effect on our health.”
Feeling in a constant “unpleasant” state
While many of us will suffer bouts of sadness, those with chronic loneliness will feel like they are constantly in an “unpleasant” state, unable to find any hope.
“If we think about loneliness as this adaptive response kind of like hunger and thirst, it’s this unpleasant state that motivates us to seek out social connections just like hunger motivates us to seek out food,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University told Business Insider.
Increased desire to binge-watch
Previous research conducted by the University of Texas found that the more lonely a person is, the more likely they are to binge-watch TV or films. While this is something many of us do occasionally, the study found that, sadly, lonely people do this as a distraction.
Can chronic loneliness lead to health problems?
Experts say yes!
Long-term feelings of loneliness can affect your health in many ways. For example, chronic loneliness can drive up cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that your body creates when under stress. Over time, higher cortisol levels can lead to inflammation, excess weight gain, insulin resistance, problems concentrating, and more.
If left unchecked, these chronic loneliness symptoms can put you at greater risk for more serious medical and emotional problems, including, depression, sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mental health and emotional problems, and substance use.
There is even the possibility that chronic loneliness and the health risks that come with it, could shorten one’s lifespan.
If you think you are suffering with long-term feelings of loneliness, talk to your doctor or a therapist.
[Sources: Country Living, The Conversation, 60PlusClub, health insurance giant Cigna, loneliness.org]