The Scourge of Loneliness

Could one of the reasons so many people get sick be because they’re lonely? It turns out that loneliness is a real phenomenon that can affect our health, currently impacting millions of people across the country. For a long time, it left scientists baffled, but now they’re building up the theory and evidence to help them understand why loneliness might be such a big problem.

Human beings are social animals. We didn’t evolve in isolation. Instead, we relied on a community in which every person had a role. The women would typically forage for roots and fruit. The children would help the women once old enough. The men would go out and get meat if it was available or they’d prepare housing and look after livestock. In other words, there was a division of labor in which eat person relied on another to maintain their quality of life. Being alone was extremely uncommon, simply because your survival chances were so small.

Loneliness has Psychological and Physical Implications

What are the health consequences of loneliness? Image via Pexels (CC0 License).

But in today’s world, it’s easy to survive by yourself. However, it appears to be related to a bunch of negative health consequences. Why? Scientists think it might have something to do with the body’s primal stress response to isolation. Being by yourself was a sign that you’d been cast out from the tribe. As a result, all your stress responses go into overdrive to protect you from the predators in the environment. This could be why people who are by themselves for long periods of time start to suffer health consequences: their body’s response to stress has real, physiological effects which then cause a range of health problems.

One of the reasons why projects like the United Zion Retirement Community is so important is because they are trying to reduce the level of loneliness in the community. Elderly people, for instance, who don’t live alone, die far less often than those that do, according to researchers at Brigham Young University. Their results suggest that being with other people all the time reduces mortality by 30 percent, an enormous bump in survival.

Loneliness Causes Psychological Problems

Loneliness is associated with a whole host of psychological problems. These include schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance abuse. What’s more, loneliness is often the most common mental state associated with suicide. In other words, you rarely find a suicidal person who is around people all the time. It’s something primary which is brought about by isolation it seems.

Loneliness Causes Physical Problems

The idea that emotional states could have physiological effects on the body sounded like quackery to many just a few years ago. But as so often happens in the medical profession, the quacks turn out to be right and the professionals wrong. It turns out that loneliness has all sorts of effects on the body, from reducing libido to suppressing the immune system. As such, scientists now believe that stress is something that in and of itself is harmful to the body.

The bottom line? If we’re going to be healthy in the digital age, we need to make sure that our connections to other people are real. We need our own tribe.

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92 thoughts on “The Scourge of Loneliness

  1. I love this article. I know isolation is a huge factor in not only suicide, but in instances where someone turns violent. For example, school bombers and random shooters. One of the recurring themes when authorities studied similarities between these groups was they all experienced isolation. We need to make connections not only for our own health but for others as well! Kudos to you for stating it so eloquently!

  2. Hi Christy…
    Great article and yes I agree fully for the need of community. For years I lived alone in some very remote locations. I cannot truthfully say that it was healthy as we I did come back into civilization it was overwhelming. Being the INFJ personality the introvert in me is normal but I do need people in my life.
    The research on loneliness and correlation to to being unhealthy mentally and physically only makes sense. What I see is people are becoming more and more dependent on social media as a form of connection. It serves it purpose but we all need to socialize…
    Excellent article Christy and one which makes us all rethink the amount of time we spend alone…

    Virtual Hugs from Alberta

    • It’s ironic isn’t it Rolly that it’s “social media” and yet we’re alone on our devices as we use these networks.. Great that you make time to have one-on-one interactions, as well as group outings. Do take care 🙂

  3. Great article that shows how social media can cause many issues.
    I wonder how social media will affect children in the future. I hope parents will encourage their children to interact with others more.
    Here in Florida, where I live, the elderly in assisted living facilities often suffer from depression and lonliness. Their health is affected too. I hope things can change for the better.
    Isadora 😎

  4. Loneliness is such a powerful emotion that causes a domino effect in our lives. Once we feel lonely, we start to neglect our wellbeing, our work and all of our responsibilities as we retreat into ourselves. Some people compensate by putting themselves out there more, but if that doesn’t work then all areas of our lives can suffer. Great reminder in this time of non-personal connection!

  5. So important to have a tribe Christy. Loneliness absolutely can cause so many negative effects within us both physically and mentally. It’s a fact that many seniors who lose a spouse also die within short time frames after because all they had was each other. People need to be loved and heard to stay nourished. Fantastic post my friend. ❤ xxx

  6. This is a really important point. Loneliness and isolation are huge problems for many people. It is so easy to live without contact with others now and too many times we walk around with our heads down not attending to the lives of others. Great post, Christy. Cheers!

  7. good post I personly think Lonelyness is the saddest and hardest Emotion to recover from. Can be in a room of 100 people and still feel lonely x

  8. Loneliness is a complex matter. As K stated, someone “can be in a room of 100 people and still feel lonely.” Yet some can be alone for days without even a phone call and never feel lonely.

    I love being alone–though I seldom get time alone since I had kids–and I am never lonely when I get a few days to myself (not even when I was younger and had weeks to myself). Perhaps because the activities I do are often meant for one person: writing, reading, drawing, gardening.

    I have a senior friend who loves being alone but when she wants to interact with people, she seeks them out. She’s very active, but she wants to interact with humans on her terms, when she wants to. She is comfortable with being alone and is not lonely.

    I often think lonely in the inability to enjoy oneself, the time alone for reflection, deep thought, meditation, calmness. Though I do understand many seniors are lonely when locked up in apartments without family and friends to stop in now and again.

    It certainly is an interesting topic, one that is good to discuss, particularly for those who are lonely and unable to articulate their feelings about it.

  9. I agree. Loneliness can be damaging… Great post, Chris… I particularly enjoyed the genealogical inputs, at the beginning. Your statements are very well justified, from a historical & medical point of view. ⭐ Hugs!

  10. I really like this article, I think now days so many people are isolated from reality by living through their phones…

  11. I worked in longterm care for 6 years, Christy, and I affirm everything you said. We had a resident border collie who made rounds visiting residents. Those who seldom had visitors would have died sooner had it not been for Joy. Loneliness can kill. Making friends on social media can be a lifesaver for the lonely; another reason why I appreciate our blogging community. Thank you for this wonderful post ♥

  12. I do like the idea of dying less often, Christy! I read a post of Jeff Goins yesterday about combating the loneliness of writing by joining other authors that are about at your stage in writing and getting together about once a week. Ernest Hemmingway moved to Paris for the exact purpose of being near other authors. We have to have some social contacts to keep going, just like you said.

    I think the internet helps protect older people somewhat from loneliness because they are chatting with others, especially if they live alone.

    But sometimes they (we bloggers) need to step out and at least make a phone call or a visit to someone close to us. Great post. I think it is a topic we need to come back to often. Thanks for sharing. I feel less lonely already! 🙂

  13. I totally agree about needing your own tribe! I’m trying to reach out to people more, even if it means stopping what I’m doing and sending a text or a private message on Facebook. A message of encouragement to someone is always timely!

  14. “The Scourge of Loneliness” – is it loneliness?, is it a scourge? How about ‘going-solo’ is that categorised as ‘loneliness’? Going solo as I will refer to it as, can be a form of healing as well as a defence mechanism, defence from what? possibly a person has thought to themselves, “to heck with all the hassle”, possibly related to other people and come to a conclusion, ‘going-solo’, would be a better option. Is it indeed the ‘loneliness’ that causes psychological problems? if it was dug a little deeper into, could it not be the reason behind a person’s ‘loneliness’, ‘going-solo’ that is more likely the cause of any psychological problems? As for classing ‘all’ human beings as ‘social animals’, is this a one size fits all scenario? If it is, does it fit? Taking the digital age out of the equation, yes we do need to “make sure that our connections to other people are real. We need our own tribe” although acknowledge, respect, sometimes a person does not necessarily require or want to be within a ‘tribe’. Tribes can become ‘cleeky’.

    • As an addition, ” you rarely find a suicidal person who is around people all the time. It’s something primary which is brought about by isolation it seems” – I must find the rarity’s, as I can sadly say, I have known of a few ‘suicides’ where I would have considered the people to be the ‘life and soul of the party people’. ‘social people’ – were they trying ‘to fit’ with what has been developed into being viewed as ‘the norm’. For these people, how much pressure did it put them under, ‘to try and fit’, to be a ‘social butterfly’? what psychological effects could this cause, have caused? Why do people feel as if they have to be the same as each other? Frightened of uniqueness? being unique?

    • To further add, possibly a wee sidetrack from, an expansion to your topic (next sentence is being said tongue in cheek) during a break from ‘the screen’, wow! isn’t it amazing how one’s mind remembers how to work when not looking at a screen. Your blog post which contained the words ‘scientist’, ‘professionals’ and ‘quackery’ and another blog I am currently following, commenting on, which contained the word ‘specialism’, reminded me of an instance when ‘scientists’, ‘specialists’. ‘Dr’s’, depending upon which term you may use, didn’t know or hadn’t even heard of a diagnosis that was EVENTUALLY given to someone, too late I hasten and sadly add. My point, question here is…if someone dares to be different, be unique, what and who gives these ‘scientists’, ‘specialists’, again dependent upon which term you use, to be classed as such and to be permitted to categorise other people into specific ‘groups’, under specific ‘terms’? Are they as ‘scientific’, ‘specialist’ as it is made out they are?

      • Hi Tom! Look at all of these “thoughts of the day” for you to put on your blog. Feel free to reword them and make them posts 🙂 I’m glad for how you question the world and keep us on our toes. Much of what you say involves differentiating between being alone and being lonely. As you say, you can be around a lot of people and still feel lonely (although you are not physically alone). Hugs!

  15. Omg i can relate to this article, apparently i got isolated..living alone is tough and it has affected my health..hormonal imbalance, lack of sleep, depression, anger, putting on weight is wat am suffering from. X

  16. Good article.Loneliness ushers door to depression very rapidly.Give invitation to disease , negative thoughts .It’s good for sometime to relax ones mind ,but not for a long.Loneliness is like a silent killer.

  17. I love this article! Community is essential for well being on a personal level, but it is also imperative for anyone trying to reach a goal in their professional life! My husband and I used to volunteer a lot as teenagers, and one of the most rewarding things we did was visit the elderly in nursing homes. I saw one nursing home who had an amazing program that integrated with a kindergarten. The children would come in and play, learn, and just talk to the residents. It was a beautiful thing. Thanks for sharing!

    • That sounds heartwarming, Jessica! Another reason volunteering is great not only for the person being helped but also the volunteer 🙂 Give and thou shall receive… I love the idea of a supportive community. Thanks for being here in the blogging world, which is such a great community in itself!

  18. Very well done, Christy! In the years to come, I wonder if said experts will turn their attention to the impacts our virtual tribe has on those of us who spend a lot of time online. Also, can a virtual tribe replace a face-to-face tribe for those who are elderly or cut off from other for other reasons? An interesting topic!

    • It’s very interesting, John. Your point is spot on. Is social media really social? Are we distancing ourselves rather than coming closer? Will the next generation be lonelier for it? So much to be revealed… Thanks for being here, dear friend.

  19. An excellent article, very well written and a very inspired choice of topic. You are so talented and I can imagine the great things you’ll accomplish in the future. Thank you for following my blog, I’m honored and I’m looking forward to read more of your posts!
    Best regards,
    Claudia

  20. This is a very interesting post, Christy. It is topic that needs to be considered more and exposed more deeply. I like what John Fioravanti said. It is a true bell ringing!

  21. This makes so much sense. I left the corporate world in 2014 to be a full time writer. I’ve suffered from poor physical and emotional health since the end of that year. I do believe there is a link.

  22. I was about to disagree and then i started thinking about it one level deeper. While I am perfectly fine on my own as I am always learning something. It is also true that I do feel better after going out in between being long period lonely. It is important to have people around or to be around people even it were for once a week.

    • I get what you are saying here. Some people like to be social daily and for others its less often.. to each their own 🙂 Thanks for participating in the discussion here

  23. Pingback: The Scourge of Loneliness – Ready to Live Longer

  24. Yep, loneliness doesn’t help my health…eating the wrong food,not getting out on the bike is a big part of my downfall…this year was meant to be a turnaround but…….

  25. Great post Christy. I think its so easy to be alone nowadays. Things like UBEREATS and menu log make it easier to stay in so that we don’t have to dine at a restaurant. Being attached to social media and our phones, prevents us having a conversation in person!

    When I went to Japan earlier this year, they mentioned that Japan’s suicidal rate is rising (they even have a forest called Aokigahara Forest which is where people go to commit suicide) it is so sad. Articles mentioned that it’s because people are always on their phones, they don’t interact enough. People just go to work and go home!

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