Loneliness and its impact is a thing that every person has felt in the course of life. Whether it be in school, college or job. Humans are social creatures, and this is the reason people feel lonely when not surrounded at least by their loved ones. The feeling of being lonely can hurt a person a lot mentally. Which in turn can interrupt the daily routine of a person.
What is loneliness?
The definition of loneliness suggests that it is a feeling of distress which accompanies an individual’s perception of their social needs which are not met by quantity and quality of social relationships. In simple words, it can be said that loneliness is a perception of social isolation, and not objective social isolation (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
As per the statistical data, 80% of the population under the age of 18 years old, 40% of the population over the age of 65 years old suffer from loneliness. From a study, it is seen that loneliness decreases gradually in the middle years of adulthood and expands in the later years of life which is old age. Around 15-30% of the population is suffering from chronic levels of loneliness (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
Loneliness can affect the physical as well as the mental health of a person. It is postulated that loneliness can be equivalent to physical pain, hunger, and thirst, etc. Whereas it also has notable consequences on the cognition, emotion, and behavior of an individual (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
Does loneliness really impact the well-being of an individual?
A study suggested that loneliness does have an impact on a person’s well-being. The objective of the study was to determine whether loneliness has a strong impact on well-being and health. Not only this but to understand the psychological determinants to provide better intervention for loneliness (Macià et al., 2021b).
In the study it was seen that health status and the meaning of life in a person’s life are the major predictors of loneliness, followed by this social connectedness and with factors such as lifestyle, socio-economic and socio demographic, etc. The component of the meaning of life consists of cognitive factors, sense of coherence, etc. The study suggests that programs to tackle with loneliness should include more cognitive, value-centered interventions (Macià et al., 2021b).
Impact on Physical Health:
According to a longitudinal study, it was seen that morbidity and mortality is increased due to loneliness. It also accelerates the physiological aging of an individual. It even increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases in young adults. These cardiovascular problems include BMI, systolic blood pressure (SBP), maximum oxygen consumption, HDL cholesterol levels (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
It is also seen that there is an association between loneliness and increased systolic blood pressure in middle-aged adults. Pennix et al. proved that loneliness can predict all the causes of mortality. As per a survey conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Survey, a high frequency of loneliness is seen among women and is also associated with incident coronary heart disease (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
Impact on Mental Health:
Recent literature has helped in assessing the impact of loneliness on cognition. Associations between loneliness and personality disorders, psychosis, suicide, cognitive decline, impairment in cognitive performance, enhanced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, lack of executive control, and increased depressive symptoms are seen. The association between loneliness and depressive symptoms has a reciprocal relation between each other. As per the recent analysis, loneliness can predict an increase in depressive symptoms over a time period of 1 year, whereas depressive symptoms cannot predict the same for loneliness in the same time interval (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
In an experiment, when loneliness was hypnotically induced it not only showed an increase in depressive symptoms, but it showed an increase in perceived stress, anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, reduced optimism, anger, and reduced self-esteem. And the most devastating drawback of feeling socially isolated is dementia and cognitive decline. Loneliness also has a significant and stronger influence on Alzheimer’s disease than depressive symptoms (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).
How can we tackle loneliness?
Here are some strategies to cope with loneliness, the strategies are:
- Join a class or a club: Take part in the things you are interested in like arts, singing, and reading books, and join classes related to it, or a place where you are exposed to people with similar ideation.
- Strengthen your current relationships: Enhance socializing with the people you are already with, like your family and friends. Call them more often, have fun with them, go out with them, etc.
- Adopt a pet: Pets like dogs and cats help in preventing loneliness. Pets provide unconditional love which helps in getting rid of loneliness.
- Enhance your social skills: Talk to strangers, and build conversations. Talking to strangers contributes to social and emotional well-being of oneself, which is seen as result of research.
- Add self-care routines in day-to-day life: Self-care includes eating nutritious foods, sleeping for enough hours, exercising, etc.
- Keep yourself busy: Distract yourself from the feelings of loneliness. Invest your time in yourself and the things you are interested in, etc.
- Consult a therapist: Sometimes you can feel lonely even after meeting new people or in a crowd and with the people who are close to you, which can be a symptom of depression or anxiety. In this case, consulting a therapist is a great idea (Scott, 2022b).
Effects of Loneliness on One’s Health and Happiness
Loneliness is a distressing feeling that can be compared to physical pain, hunger, thirst, cognition, emotion, and behavior. It can also affect one’s physical and mental health. According to a study, major predictors of loneliness include socioeconomic status, health status, meaning of life, social connectedness, lifestyle, and socio-demographic factors. Loneliness is linked to mental health problems like personality disorders, psychosis, suicides, and cognitive decline. It also accelerates physiological aging, raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and increases morbidity and mortality. Alzheimer’s disease is significantly and more strongly influenced by loneliness, so coping mechanisms include enrolling in a class, enhancing existing relationships, getting a pet, developing social skills, increasing self-care, and speaking with a therapist.