If you were one of the millions of Americans who thought that our society is plagued by obesity as its biggest health problem, you would be quite wrong. Yes, you read correctly because it seems that new research has been conducted into loneliness, and has been presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association by researchers stating that lonely people are 50% more likely to die before reaching 70 as compared to people who are social.
The Stats Behind The Loneliness Epidemic
The researcher behind the study, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University has stated: “An increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.” The research analyzed 218 studies involving almost four million people with the conclusive being that you are more likely to die early if you suffer from chronic loneliness.
When comparing the 50% hike in the chance of death by being lonely, the 30% rise in deaths due to obesity shows you just how serious this issue is. Unfortunately, more and more people, especially the younger generations are less likely to go out and socialize causing more cases of chronic loneliness to rise.
Severity Of The Situation Regarding Loneliness In American Adults
While being lonely may not seem serious to some, it is a basic need we all have psychologically as Holt-Lunstad states “Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.”
Loneliness leading to death is not just some data on a spread sheet but a true and quite likely scenario proven by scientific research by another study. This study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and UCLA has concluded that the bodies of those who are very lonely or who are socially isolated are more susceptible to being infected by viruses and other illnesses. This is due to the immune cells fighting bacteria instead of the viruses and illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Steve Cole from UCLA explains “What we see is a consistent pattern where it looks like human immune cells are programmed with a defensive strategy that gets activated in lonely people.”
Physiological Aspects Of Loneliness
Another aspect of loneliness that causes damage to the body and mind is the increasing the levels of stress hormone, Cortisol secreted in the brain. This increase in Cortisol increases the blood pressure which increases the chances of heart attacks. “Much like the threat of physical pain, loneliness protects your social body. It lets you know when social connections start to fray and cause the brain to go on alert for social threats,” says John Cacioppo who is a social psychologist at the University of Chicago. This increases anxiety and can cause hyper-reactivity in some towards other peoples negative behaviors which can lead to more loneliness. This can turn into a dangerous downward spiral leading to chronic loneliness.
Chronic Loneliness Is A Worldwide Problem
The problem of having chronic loneliness is a major one with over 42.6 million adults suffering from this condition, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. Another supporting statistic from the U.S Census shows that around 25% of Americans live alone which can lead to them becoming less connected socially. Loneliness is not just something that is applicable to Americans, a study in France conducted in 2016 by Crédoc for the Fondation de France concluded that 10% of the people suffer from social isolation. Holt-Lunstad said that “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk of premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”
Staying Social With Family, Friends, And Colleagues
Being social, whether it’s with friends, family or at the workplace, is essential to leading a being healthy, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. Those who decide to retire also should take note that they should maintain their social contacts as many of us who work have more interactions in the office than out of the workplace. This can be a negative if you leave your workplace as these daily interactions are no longer there for you to be social.
The Best Solution To Loneliness
Now for the solution. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this major health risk we subject ourselves to without realizing. Loneliness can only be alleviated by having interactions and building relationships with others. This can be as easy as picking up the phone and calling the first person on the contacts list you see, or it can be difficult to find someone to talk to because it’s been so long since you had any contact with anyone. Cacioppo conducted a meta-analysis and suggested that the best method of treating loneliness in people is to have them interact with others socially after teaching them important social skills.