Loneliness is a symptom that makes heart disease worse

I’m going to ask you a personal question…

Do you live alone? Without a husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, brother, sister, son, daughter or roommate?

Now, let me ask you another one…

Do you feel lonely?

Now, just because you answered “yes” to the first question, doesn’t mean you answered “yes” to the second one. Some people are perfectly content living alone.

And if you answered “no” to the first question, it also doesn’t mean you answered “no” to the second question. Some people live with another person that they can’t confide in, which makes the world feel like a lonely place.

But your answer to the second question is much more important than your answer to the first question. Why?

Because feeling lonely harms your health far more than living alone…

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Loneliness breaks your heart… and more

A recent study from researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark found that people with heart disease who feel lonely have worse mental health, worse physical health and die sooner.

The study included data from 13,463 patients with ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), heart failure or heart valve disease.

No matter what type of heart problem they had, lonely people were more anxious, depressed and had a lower quality of life. They were also two times as likely to die prematurely.

If you’re thinking… I don’t have heart disease, so this doesn’t affect me. Think again. Feeling lonely affects everyone.

Previous research shows that loneliness changes your genes. It activates genes related to inflammation, which explains why it’s tied to poor health and premature death. In fact, research shows its impact on health is just as bad as obesity or smoking. Yikes!

The big difference between social isolation and feeling lonely

Researchers say there are two questions you can ask yourself to see how lonely you feel…

  1. Do you have someone to talk to when you need it?
  2. Are you alone sometimes even though you want to be with someone?

It’s also important to understand the difference between social isolation and feeling lonely. If you’re socially isolated, you spend a lot of time alone and don’t have many people you can hang out with. But this may or may not bother you. Some people like solitude.

Feeling lonely, on the other hand, is about how close you feel to the people in your life. Heck, you can be in a room full of people, but if you don’t feel understood or appreciated by any of them, you can still feel lonely.

Both loneliness and social isolation may harm your health. But based on this study and others, it seems that feeling lonely is worse for you than social isolation.

So, what should you do if the loneliness bug has bitten you?

Well, you can:

  • Deepen your relationships with friends and family members. Call them regularly. Be a good listener. Ask them questions about their lives. Help them when they need it. If you do these things for them, they will likely do the same for you.
  • Get out of the house. When you go out and do stuff with other people, you’re more likely to make friends and feel socially connected. Take classes or join groups focused around your hobbies or interest. That way you’ll meet people you have something in common with.
  • Organize events. Don’t sit around and wait in vain for the invitations to roll in. Be proactive and invite people you know and like to social events, like pot luck dinners, movie nights, concerts, day hikes or anything else you enjoy.
  • See a therapist. If you just can’t shake your loneliness, you may want to see a professional who can help you work through it. Sometimes, loneliness is depression in disguise. At the very least, a therapist may be able to help you figure out why you’re having a hard time connecting with other people and offer advice for forging more meaningful relationships.

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Sources:

  1. Loneliness is bad for the heart — MedicalXpress
  2. Feeling Lonely? You May Be Damaging Your HealthPsychology Today

 

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.