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.
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.