Feeling lonely can be unpleasant, but did you know that it can also reduce your lifespan? According to some reports, loneliness can shorten your life as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Some studies have also shown that being lonely is worse for your health than being obese, and can raise your risk for early death by about 30 percent. Luckily, researchers have also been able to shed light on ways that people overcome feelings of loneliness.
But before we get to how to combat loneliness, you might be wondering how it can have such a significant effect on your health. Well, there are a couple of theories.
The Behavioral Theory
Some researchers have said that it could be related to behavioral changes. This theory says that as people feel more lonely, they are more likely to neglect their healthy habits and adopt more risky behaviors like drug abuse.
The Immune System Theory
A more popular theory is that loneliness causes stress in the body that weakens the immune system. This is because we are social animals. We evolved to live with others. When you’re around other people, it provides safety and security, so your body relaxes.
But when you’re feeling alone and lacking the safety of other people, your body goes on defence. Subconsciously, you become more aware of possible threats around you. It triggers a stress response so you’re ready to deal with danger.
This stress response causes a release of hormones, increased heart rate, muscle tension, and other changes. Over time, these changes can take a toll on the body and its immune function, increasing the risk for a range of health conditions.
Dealing With Loneliness
Research has shown that feelings of loneliness don’t always match the level of social interaction. There are some people who have active social lives but still feel lonely, and others who don’t see anyone often but don’t feel lonely at all.
This means that loneliness can be more about a person’s state of mind then their social circumstances.
In addition, a recent study of older adults living in a senior housing community highlighted some characteristics of people who overcome feelings of loneliness. Those characteristics included acceptance of ageing and good social skills for making new friends.
It also found that compassion was one factor that helped with overcoming loneliness. The study participants who focused on helping others were better at dealing with their own feelings of loneliness.
Mind and Body
There are many ways your mental state affects your overall health. Loneliness is just one example.
So dealing with mental health issues like stress, anxiety, and depression can not only improve your quality of life, it can help you live longer. If you think you are experiencing any of these conditions, you should talk to your doctor, as there are many options for mental health support and treatment.