Lonely, isolated, disconnected ... unhealthy? It turns out, feeling lonely might not just be emotionally difficult — it could also harm your immune system, according to a new study.
The research, presented at annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, showed lonely people are more likely to have latent viruses reactivate, according to Live Science. It also showed lonely people, when stressed out, are more likely to produce inflammatory compounds. Researchers conducted the study with 200 female breast cancer survivors and 134 middle-aged, overweight people with no serious health problems.
Scientists have investigated the relationship between loneliness and health in several studies in the past. Previously, it has been linked to higher blood pressure in older people (which contributes to heart attacks and strokes), poor sleep, and even Alzheimer's in old age.
And with new findings that more people are living alone than ever before, this research is particularly poignant. Different cities around the globe are creating programs like communal residences to best serve this new demographic, according to the Globe and Mail.
But surrounding yourself with new friends isn't necessarily the cure to loneliness, according to psychologist Louise Hawkley.
If you're feeling isolated, try improving your social skills, asking for professional help or counselling, or looking for opportunities to meet new people, suggests Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist and HuffPost blogger. Also, try to think positively and not anticipate rejection, she said.
Related on HuffPost:
Sure, depression is common in old age, and <a href="http://realdelia.com/2010/06/tips-for-adulthood-five-reasons-to-be-optimistic-about-middle-age/" target="_blank">people are living longer</a> than ever before. But <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lewis-richmond/aging-and-the-importance-_b_1367233.html" target="_blank">the role of the elderly</a> within communities is also shifting, from traditional societies where the elderly held a hallowed place as the repository of community customs, history and stories, to post-industrial societies where this guidance function is much less valued. As this sociological shift takes place, older people risk feeling marginalized from their families and neighborhoods, particularly if they end up in nursing homes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4332388370/" target="_hplink">Horia Varlan</a></em>
2. Death And Divorce
Writing about the loneliness epidemic, one national columnist talked about the "three Ds": <a href="http://realtruth.org/articles/091207-002-society.html" target="_blank">death, divorce and delayed marriage</a>. It's not hard to see why the death of a spouse would trigger a feeling of loneliness. <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/forging-social-connections-for-longer-life/" target="_blank">Jane E. Brody had a lovely meditation</a> on this topic in the <em>New York Times</em> not long ago. The divorce point is more interesting. We know, for example, that <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2033283,00.html" target="_blank">online dating</a> has seen its highest growth rate among baby boomers. But <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1248918/Divorce-UK-As-countless-women-walk-marriage-middle-age-freedom--loneliness.html" target="_blank">all that dating</a> doesn't necessarily translate into feeling less lonely. Sometimes it just reinforces it, as people bounce from one partner to another. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50841708@N00/408909324/" target="_hplink">firemedic58</a></em>
3. Social Media
Which brings us to social media. The central thesis of <em>The Atlantic</em> article I referenced earlier is that even as <a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/8930/" target="_blank">we become ever more connected</a> as a society digitally, we are becoming less immersed in real-life social ties. This is not a new thesis, and as someone who spends a lot of time online I can readily attest to its accuracy. What's interesting about the article is that it looks very closely at Facebook and references research suggesting that while "active" interaction on Facebook -- e.g., making a comment on someone's status update, sending a private message -- tends to make people feel less lonely, just passively scrolling through other people's feeds and hitting the odd "like" button can make you feel more lonely. An earlier study offers some insight into this finding: Because we are <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/01/the_antisocial_network.html" target="_blank">psychologically predisposed</a> to overestimate other people's happiness, when we see the invariably upbeat, relentlessly witty and sometimes just plain gushing status updates that pretty much define Facebook, it makes us feel worse about ourselves.
Here's a factor I hadn't considered, but which makes perfect sense. According to Robert Putnam, the famed Harvard political scientist and author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0743203046/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=slatmaga-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399349&creativeASIN=0743203046" target="_blank"><em>Bowling Alone</em></a>, <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/05/your_commute_is_killing_you.html" target="_blank">long commuting times</a> are one of the most robust predictors of social isolation. Specifically, every 10 minutes spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer "social connections." And those social connections tend to make us feel happy and fulfilled. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/196792901/" target="_hplink">Richard Masoner</a></em>
There is also likely a genetic component to loneliness. One <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4426184.stm" target="_blank">survey of loneliness among twins </a>showed much less variability in the self-reporting of loneliness among identical twins than among fraternal ones. There's also been a lot of fascinating research coming out of The University of Chicago about the way in which loneliness shapes brain development and vice versa, suggesting <a href="http://machineslikeus.com/news/what-brain-mechanism-causes-loneliness" target="_blank">a neural mechanism in explaining loneliness</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eraphernalia_vintage/2777692881/" target="_hplink">Sheryl</a></em>