Loneliness may be more of a hazard to our health than obesity, according to a 2017 article published by the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C. And researchers even liken the potential health damage of social isolation and loneliness to what occurs when smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Studies like this highlight what’s being called a “loneliness epidemic” in the U.S. Today, as we face an unprecedented pandemic and spent most of 2020 practicing “social distancing,” people have an even greater risk of chronic loneliness. This is not only a threat to our social health, but to our physical, mental and emotional well-being, too.
Feeling alone from time to time isn’t abnormal or necessarily cause for alarm, but when feelings of isolation and loneliness persist, it can really take a serious toll on all aspects of your health — and often, you won’t to see the negative health impact until years later.
People of all ages can feel lonely, but this emotion can be an especially deadly among the elderly. A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that loneliness and social isolation in older men and women is linked to increased mortality.
Now, more than ever, we need to take care of ourselves and those around us — spreading positivity and maintaining connections, even while remaining physically isolated. Thankfully, there are ways to combat loneliness and spread job to those who are feeling alone.
What Is Loneliness?
What is the actual loneliness definition? Loneliness is the state of feeling lonely. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines lonely in a number of ways, including: being without company, cut off from others, sad from being alone, or producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation.
It’s really important to note that being physically alone doesn’t just automatically equate to loneliness. It’s actually a sense of isolation and feeling as though something is missing. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely, which is perhaps the most difficult form of loneliness.
The solitude definition, on the other hand, is when you are alone, but not lonely. This can be a positive and constructive state of engagement with yourself. Many people benefit from daily moments of solitude.
Health Resources & Services Administration reports the following loneliness statistics:
One in 5 Americans report sometimes or always feeling lonely or socially isolated (although it’s likely been more during the pandemic).
43 percent of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis.
Along lonely seniors, there is a 45 percent increased risk of mortality.
Poor social relationships are associated with a 20 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in stroke risk.
So how do you know if you’re lonely? Some of the most common signs of loneliness include:
Overwhelming feeling of social isolation, even when you aren’t alone
Feeling disengaged and alienated
Inability to connect with people on a deep, intimate level
Not having any “best” or close friends
Feeling like no one really “gets” or understands you
Feeling worthless and emotionally drained
In addition to these symptoms, feeling alone and isolated can also impact your physical health, leading to symptoms like fatigue, trouble sleeping, suppressed immune system, weight gain and inflammation.
Loneliness is a leading precursor to depression and alcoholism, as well as all kinds of other medical concerns. Why would this be? For starters, loneliness has been found to increase the levels of both stress hormones and blood pressure, which has a serious negative impact on one of your most vital organs: the heart. No wonder a loneliness synonym is “heartache.”