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6 ways in which loneliness can destroy your health

Loneliness doesn't stop at the mind. It can destroy your health, inch-by-inch.

We value our relationships and our social connections to a large extent. Thanks to our anatomical shortcomings, we are ill-equipped to survive harsh weather conditions and predators on our own. So a need to connect and forge relationships with other human beings is our basic, survival need. In fact, we are meaning-making creatures. This means we even perceive relationships where they don't exist in the real sense. For example, we imagine a relationship with the writer of a book we read or with actors in a movie we watch and with a god we worship.

So like it or hate it, we need our human companions to survive and need our family, friends and tribe to survive. Our relationships are important for our emotional fulfillment, behavioural adjustment and our cognitive functions. It fosters values or selflessness, cooperation, empathy and brotherhood. But what happens when you are isolated from your social group? Everyone feels lonely at some point in their lives; but chronic loneliness is when you go for days and months without experiencing meaningful human contact. And if science is to be believed, it is a bigger killer than obesity itself. Apart from the deep sense of sadness it creates, chronic loneliness can also be life threatening. Here are some of the health repercussions of living a lonely life.

1. Depression

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Among the mental effects of loneliness is depression. Studies suggest that socially isolated individuals, especially young ones are at risk for developing depression. Although the prevalence of depression can differ with different age groups, the link between loneliness and depression remains stable.[1] Apart from triggering depressive episodes, loneliness causes low self-esteem and can also increase perceived stress, fear of negative evaluation, anxiety, anger, pessimism.[2]

2. Poor sleep

Sleep deprivation is yet another repercussion of chronic loneliness. And as sleep suffers, the restorative functions of sleep like repairing tissues, promoting muscle growth, synthesising protein and releasing growth hormones are all impaired.[4]

3. Dementia

The elderly experience sadness and emotional distress when their children grow up and leave home. So, chronic loneliness is quite common among the senior citizens.[5] The risk of Alzheimer's dementia doubles in senior citizens of normal health undergoing chronic loneliness.

4. Cardiovascular issues

There also seems to a dose-response relationship of loneliness with cardiovascular health risk in young adults. Their heart health risks proportionately increased according to their level of isolation. Loneliness is also associated with increased systolic blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and chances of obesity.[6]

5. Increased risk of death

Loneliness precipitates a host of health problems, resulting from diminished sleep, impaired cardiovascular health and general malaise. It is a well-established fact that loneliness increases morbidity and mortality. Research indicates that the risk of death resulting from social isolation is comparable to the risks associated with smoking and alcohol consumption.[7]

6. Psychoses

It is established that feeling lonely can have an impact on a person's mental well-being. But studies also point to a connection between chronic loneliness and development of problems such as psychosis which makes them lose connection with reality.[8]

References:

1. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Ahrens, C. (2002). Age differences and similarities in the correlates of depressive symptoms. Psychology and aging, 17(1), 116.

2. Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M., Berntson, G. G., Nouriani, B., & Spiegel, D. (2006). Loneliness within a nomological net: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of research in personality, 40(6), 1054-1085. depression ke saath

3. Cornwell, E. Y., & Waite, L. J. (2009). Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health among Older Adults . Journal of health and social behavior, 50(1), 31-48.

4. Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2003). Loneliness and pathways to disease. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 17(1), 98-105.

5. Wilson, R. S., Krueger, K. R., Arnold, S. E., Schneider, J. A., Kelly, J. F., Barnes, L. L., ... & Bennett, D. A. (2007). Loneliness and risk of Alzheimer disease. Archives of general psychiatry, 64(2), 234-240.

6. Frankl, V. (2000). Loneliness and isolation: Modern health risks. Pfizer Journal, 4(4).

7. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine, 7(7), e1000316.

8.7. Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness Matters: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms. Annals of Behavioral Medicine : A Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 10.1007/s12160 010 9210 8. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8

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