How Loneliness Affects Your Health and What to Do About It
We live in an amazing time, where we have more access to technology and social networking than ever before. But many people still struggle with feelings of loneliness, and the negative effect it has on their health. In fact, the rise in social media may even be contributing to the problem.
Last year, the insurance company Cigna surveyed 20,000 Americans and found that half of them reported feeling lonely, while 46% reported feeling alone. The survey also found that only 53% of Americans have meaningful interactions with others on a daily basis. That means almost half of American adults feel isolated, and nearly half are lacking in meaningful in-person interactions.
Loneliness has also been on the rise as more and more people rely on technology as their primary form of communication with others. The average person spends about 2.5 hours per day on social media, and 5 hours per day watching some kind of screen. It certainly is possible to have meaningful interactions on social media, and the availability of social networking may even provide an escape from isolation for those whose home and community situations make in-person relationships difficult or impossible. However there is something to be said for face-to-face human interactions, and eliminating them may lead to increased feelings of loneliness.
Feeling alone or isolated can greatly impact your overall quality of life and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s so easy to put relationships and social interactions on the back burner, but it is important for our mental health that we avoid doing so. We were created to be in community with one another, and to lean on and support and serve and help each other.
Let’s take a look at how loneliness affects your wellness as well as 6 steps you can take to get out of the slump if you’re feeling isolated.
How Does Loneliness Affect Your Wellness?
There’s nothing worse than feeling lonely and isolated from others. This doesn’t mean everyone has to be an extrovert! Some people find that they need time to themselves to recharge, and that social interactions are emotionally and physically draining. Different types of social interactions are helpful for different types of people; some people are energized by group gatherings, while others need one-one-one time with a close friend. But no one, introvert or extrovert, wants to feel there is no one they can turn to for friendship, and everyone needs human interaction of some kind.
Loneliness and isolation can occur due to a demanding job that doesn’t allow you enough time to spend with friends or family, or maybe you have moved for a new job or a new state and don’t know anyone in the area. New parents can also start to feel lonely, as the demands of parenthood take more of their time and their social interactions decrease. Then there are more serious causes of loneliness. People in abusive or toxic relationships often find that they have been isolated from friends and family, sometimes against their will. If you are in a situation like this, do not hesitate to seek help immediately.
Whatever the cause, loneliness can interfere with your overall wellness, and can have an impact on your physical and mental health in various ways, including:
Increased Cortisol Levels: When you’re lonely, the stress hormone cortisol goes up, which can cause a number of issues in the body. Cortisol is inflammatory which can lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic high levels of cortisol in the body can also weaken your immune system, cause weight gain in your midsection, and even increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression: Feeling lonely can also increase your risk of anxiety and depression, especially if you feel completely isolated from others. Anxiety and depression can also make you feel the desire to isolate yourself further, or sap your energy for social interactions, making it a vicious cycle.
Poor Food & Lifestyle Choices: When your cortisol levels increase, it can make you crave sugary and processed foods. Loneliness can also make you feel less motivated which can make you less likely to get out and exercise, and may even lead to an increased risk of smoking and alcohol use.
Decreased Self-Care: When you are lonely, you may be less likely to take care of yourself, especially if you’re also feeling depressed or anxious. Things like basic self-care may fall off of your priority list, making yet another vicious cycle, since self-care is so necessary for your mental health.
6 Simple Steps You Can Take to Get Out of the Slump
We know that loneliness can lead to a decreased quality of life and health consequences, but what can you do about it? As we already discussed, the reasons for your loneliness may be easily addressed, or they may be more serious. For some, these six steps may solve your feelings of loneliness and increase your daily happiness. For others, these may just be the simple steps to get started, but as they help you achieve even a little better mental health, you may find you have the capacity to deal with the bigger issues. Here are six things you can start doing today to get out of the slump.
Make Plans & Stick to Them:
It’s so easy to forget to actually get out of the house and spend time with friends since it seems so much easier to chat through text or email. However, make it a point to make plans with your friends (or even just one good friend) each week and stick to them! If weekly plans seem like a bit much, try starting with a monthly commitment and go from there. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Make a coffee date each week, plans to attend a yoga class together, or even just make time to call your mom for an hour.
Pay Attention to How You Use Social Media:
Again, some people may have important relationships with others that they would never otherwise be able to connect with, thanks to social media, and that’s great. But for others, it can actually hinder meaningful interactions. If you’re in the first group, be intentional about using social media to really connect with people, instead of just to kill time or decrease boredom. If you’re in the second group, maybe take a break from social media, and pick up the phone to call a friend or family member. While technology makes social interaction quicker and more convenient, it can make us feel lonely, so make a point to call your friends or meet up. The more social interaction you have, the better you will feel. A good way to do this is to put a timer on your phone for social media apps. It will remind you and gently force you to limit usage.
Get Out of the House Daily:
Getting out of the house, even if it is just to walk the dog or walk around the neighborhood is essential to reducing those feelings of loneliness. Sometimes just getting out of the house alone, is enough to make you feel less isolated. Go out to the store, or go for a brisk walk, wherever you can walk and feel fresh air (and sunshine)! Being cooped up in the house all the time is not the best for creating body movement and will make your feelings of isolation worse.
Take a 5,000 IU Vitamin D3 Supplement:
The importance of healthy vitamin D levels to overall wellness has been well documented, but much of the US population is still vitamin D deficient. A growing body of science shows that adults who take 5,000 IUs of plant-based vitamin D3 consistently, will not only help their immune system tremendously, but can also provide an incredible boost in mood.
Talk to Someone:
This can be a friend or a professional. There’s no shame in needing someone to talk to. Don’t underestimate the feelings of loneliness and what they can do to your overall health, or the benefits of having support from others. If you are feeling isolated and feel like you have no one to talk to, don’t feel strange about talking to a therapist. They can help you understand why you feel lonely and point you in the right direction toward feeling like yourself again.
Find Someone Who Needs Your Help:
Sometimes the best possible way to connect with others is to serve them. This not only helps take your mind off your own problems, it can give you a sense of purpose, and help make someone else’s life better too. Find a local event, church, or even a soup kitchen you can volunteer for, or reach out to friends and neighbors. They may need help with something and not know who to turn to, or you may just be able to do something small and thoughtful to brighten their day. Write a friendly note to a neighbor, get a gift card for a friend, or buy flowers for your mom. You won’t believe how much helping others decreases your feelings of isolation.
Feeling lonely is not something anyone should have to suffer. It happens to most of us at some point, and sometimes it can feel like there’s no solution. These 6 simple steps can help boost your mood, which in turn will boost your desire for social interactions. Get yourself into a healthy cycle instead of a destructive one!