Beating Loneliness, the Secret Health Threat
100 years ago, there was no television. The telephone was still something of a novelty. And the Internet wasn’t even a distant dream.
Today, home computers, smartphones, satellite television and other devices make us the most connected society in history.
Yet with all that connectedness, people are lonelier than ever. Especially mature adults. And research shows it’s affecting their health – both mental and physical.
If you – or someone you love – have been feeling lonely or isolated, you should read on. Because you’ll discover what loneliness can do to your health… and some easy ways to beat those feelings of loneliness and isolation.
First, here’s why it’s so hard for people to escape lonely feelings. According to Cornell University researchers, lonely people show 65% more signs of the blues than people who feel socially connected.1
That can create a spiral that’s hard to defeat. Loneliness makes you feel blue… which makes you less inclined to socialize… which makes you feel even worse… and so on.
But loneliness leads to more than feeling blue. It has physical effects, too. For example, studies show loneliness can ruin your sleep, increase your blood pressure, make it difficult for your body to fight stress… and even lead to brain fog and confusion.2
Take sleep, for example.
Psychologists at the University of Chicago looked at middle-aged and older adults. Some were lonely, while others weren’t. The researchers discovered that lonely people have higher levels of a “fight or flight” hormone linked to stress.3
This hormone – called epinephrine – keeps you alert and on edge. It makes it harder for you to sleep. So it’s no surprise that the researchers discovered that lonely people tended to sleep more fitfully.
But during deep sleep, your body regenerates itself most. And lonely people appear to get less deep sleep. Which means the wear and tear on their bodies keeps adding up.
You can probably see why loneliness is no laughing matter. But what can you do, if you or a loved one feels lonely? Here are some simple steps that can help you beat loneliness… and help you build better health.
First, don’t worry about numbers. It’s not how many friends you have. It’s the quality of those friendships that counts. 4
In other words, you don’t have to force yourself to go to parties to beat loneliness. Sharing time with one good friend is far more healing.
Scientists in Australia have identified some activities that help people beat feelings of loneliness. And they came up with a few surprises.
As you might expect, leaning on friends and family proved an effective way to combat loneliness. But the researchers also discovered that individual activities help, too. They found that avid readers and gardeners, for example, felt less lonely.5
The key seemed to be that they were positive activities. Anything creative or constructive you enjoy – even if it’s a solitary activity – may help you defeat feelings of loneliness.
Another surprising way to beat loneliness is one we’ve all probably complained about at one time or another… Nostalgia.
As a child, you may have rolled your eyes the 100th time grandma or grandpa told a story. But a team in China discovered that nostalgia actually increases feelings of social support – and reduces feelings of lonelness.6
So if you know someone who feels a little lonely, let them tell their story again. And if you feel a little lonely yourself, just ask people to bear with you if they’ve “heard this one before.” As it turns out, a little nostalgia is healthy.
Finally, a homegrown loneliness remedy that really works… but with a twist.
Have you ever met a homesick man who didn’t crave the foods he grew up with? These “comfort foods” release a flood of happy memories guaranteed to warm the heart and calm the soul.
Unfortunately, they also tend to expand the belly. And who wants to trade one health problem for another?
Well, there’s good news from the University of Buffalo. You don’t actually have to eat comfort food to experience its positive effects.
The researchers triggered feelings of loneliness and isolation in their volunteers. Then they asked the volunteers to write about favorite comfort foods. Just writing about foods linked to positive relationships made the volunteers feel better.7
So if you’re feeling a little lonely, try breaking out your pen instead of your skillet. You may find it works just as well… without all the calories.
Yours in continued good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
1 Cornwell, E.Y. and Waite, L.J., “Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and health among older adults,” J Health Soc Behav. Mar 2009; 50(1): 31-48.
2 Luanaigh, C.O. and Lawlor, B.A., “Loneliness and the health of older people,” Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. Dec 2008; 23(12): 1213-1221.
3 Hawkley, L.C. and Cacioppo, J.T., “Aging and Loneliness: Downhill Quickly?” Current Directions in Psychological Science. Aug 2007; 16(4): 187-191(5).
4 Segrin, C. and Passalacqua, S.A., “Functions of Loneliness, Social Support, Health Behaviors, and Stress in Association With Poor Health,” Health Communication. 2010; 25(4): 312-322.
5 Pettigrew, S. and Roberts, M., “Addressing loneliness in later life,” Aging Ment Health. May 2008; 12(3): 302-309.
6 Zhou, X., et al, “Counteracting loneliness: on the restorative function of nostalgia,” Psychol Sci. Oct 2008; 19(10): 1023-1029.
7 Association for Psychological Science, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Comfort Food Fights Loneliness.” March 21, 2011.