Is there a loneliness disease? When white blood cells were taken from lonely men and put under a microscope the blood cells were in a state of high alert just the same as if they were fighting a bacterial infection. It was as though they were under assault by a mortal disease, a disease of “loneliness”.
Many lives can be devoured by loneliness. Older Americans are at greater risk for social isolation, which can lead to physical illness, depression and even dementia.
When social interaction network is missing in one’s life the consequences are very real on how it affects mental and physical health and it can result in longer hospital stays. Ongoing studies suggest more ways in which loneliness can attack our bodies and shorten our lives. Lonely people are more likely to die of heart disease, and loneliness makes us more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, the common cold, and even suicide. It is more dangerous to our health than obesity and its equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness has many different faces, Studies have found it in brain scans, statistics, and behavioral patterns. Many alarming statistics about loneliness also examine people becoming more socially disconnected.
With the huge “baby boomer” generation aging there is an increase in the number of people living alone and there are also factors of declining marriage rates and increased rates of childlessness. Lacking social interaction puts one at a greater health risk. Other factors, like living arrangements, can be important. Just living alone or in an isolated place can be just as harmful to your health as feeling lonely. It’s a known fact that those that stay socially connected live longer.
Many studies that are being done on loneliness focus on the feeling itself. The experience of feeling rejection, disconnection, and longing produces pain as real as any physical injury pain. All of this research and combining biology and psychology proves the mind and the body take their cues from each other to produce a personal private hell. It is thought that the mind interprets loneliness as a kind of threat, thus giving a kind of inflammation response in the body. Inflammation is good temporarily as the body’s first defense system to fight infection or heal wounds. But long term inflammation leads to tissue breakdown and disrupts the immune system thus increasing your susceptibility ranging from Alzheimer’s to heart disease. When the brain interprets loneliness it gives the inflammatory response reflex. The inflammation then sets up a vicious cycle, thus when you feel lonely your brain activates inflammation in the white blood cells and that response feeds back to the brain and changes the way it works. It makes it irritable, suspicious, and promotes negative emotions. This duel between body and brain, under the influence of the inflammatory response, creates stress, a since of threat with others and that isolates you even further.
Your body has a different survival mode than your brain has. When one is lonely the brain misreads social signals abnormally. Lonely people misread peoples facial expressions and tone of voice and distorts social reality. Thus their reactions is a mistaken attempt at self-protection and send signal of hostility, disinterest and withdrawal.
Those who are lonely live in a heightened level of alarm which also causes them to loose sleep. It doesn’t work to put lonely people together because loneliness increases self-centeredness , irritability, and defensiveness. They will hate each other in just a few minutes. Lonely people just don’t get what they need from the presence of other people because they crave core values and shared life experiences. Volunteering and helping others is what really helps.
Science has proves that the consequences of isolation and loneliness are severe negative health outcomes, higher health care and even death.