I live alone. But I’m not lonely.
Sure, I miss friends and family… and sometimes I feel sad when I think about how long it might be before I can see them again.
But I’m surrounded by neighbors with whom I interact daily. I’m part of a community chorus that meets online and occasionally in person.
I have had outdoor “dates” with friends this summer, and through the mail, phone and internet, I feel in close connection to many people who are important to me.
I am also surrounded by books full of voices that are making this journey through the pandemic richer.
And I’m grateful for all this connection. Because I know that loneliness can kill. Literally.
Loneliness versus isolation
It’s important to understand the difference between feeling lonely and being socially isolated.
Social isolation means having few social connections or interactions. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective experience.
A person feels lonely when there is a discrepancy between their actual and their desired level of social connection.
In other words, if you see yourself as socially disconnected, you will feel lonely, even if you are surrounded by people.
f you’re like me and spend a lot of time alone but feel very connected to others, you won’t experience loneliness.
3 things that happen to your body when you’re lonely
Loneliness isn’t just an unpleasant feeling, it damages you physically in very real ways.
Here are three major physical effects of chronic loneliness:
- Elevated stress hormones. You probably know that your body produces more cortisol when you’re stressed, and a sense of loneliness is considered a major stressor.
- Living in “fight or flight” mode. For our prehistoric ancestors, being cut off from their tribe was quite literally life threatening. Today, if we feel lonely and cut off from other people, it can trigger the same stress response. But we’re not cut out to live in perpetual “fight or flight” mode. It strains our heart, suppresses our immune system, slows the metabolism and raises blood sugar and blood pressure.
- Norepinephrine, the hormone released during a stress response, causes an elevated white blood cell count and leads to inflammation.
As we know, chronic inflammation is associated with all sorts of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, a new study shows a strong connection between ongoing feelings of loneliness and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Loneliness as a predictor of type 2 diabetes
Recently, a study at King’s College in London analyzed data on 4,112 adults aged 50 years and over who had taken part in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, or ELSA. Over a period of 12 years, 264 of those people developed type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Ruth Hackett and her colleagues determined that a person’s level of loneliness was a significant predictor of the onset of diabetes, even after considering weight, blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, also factors that influence diabetes.
Dr. Hackett explains, “If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic, then every day you’re stimulating the stress system and over time that leads to wear and tear on your body and those negative changes in stress-related biology may be linked to type 2 diabetes development.’
Loneliness can lead to early death
“You don’t hear people talk about feeling lonely, and that’s because loneliness is stigmatized, the psychological equivalent of being a loser in life or a weak person, and this is truly unfortunate because it means we’re more likely to deny feeling lonely, which makes no more sense than denying we feel hunger, thirst or pain.”
Professor John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, specializes in the study of loneliness.
He argues that we need to acknowledge and address feelings of loneliness, as much as we would any other risk factor for major, life-threatening diseases.
In his TED talk, Professor Cacioppo tells us that living with loneliness increases your odds of early death by 45 percent while living with obesity increases those odds by only 20 percent.
How to tackle loneliness
The pandemic has made dealing with loneliness much more challenging. Still, if you are feeling lonely most of the time, there are steps you can take to protect your health.
- Scheduling daily phone or internet chats with a friend or family member
- Getting a pet
- Doing for others — research shows that focusing on the well-being of others alleviates feelings of loneliness. As an example, I’m planning a COVID-safe Halloween candy station for the kids in my housing development
- Two artists developed Quarantine Chat, a voice chat service that allows users to connect with other people around the world who may be in coronavirus quarantines.
- Talking to your family doctor. He or she can connect you with professional counselors that can help.
Editor’s note: The truth is there are lots of proven and effective natural and alternative ways to turn type 2 diabetes around. And you can find them in Forbidden Secrets From Nature’s Pharmacy to Reverse Diabetes and Blood Sugar Problems! For a preview, click here!
Loneliness predicts development of type 2 diabetes — EurekAlert
How can we overcome loneliness? — Medical News Today
How the Fight or Flight Response Works — The American Institute of Stress