Although people are more connected than ever before, it's been said that loneliness has become an "epidemic" in America today. That can be a major problem because feelings of loneliness are associated with various health issues such as chronic stress, poor mental health, less socialization, a sedentary lifestyle, and less emotional and social support, Jagdish Khubchandani, MD, associate professor of community health at Ball State University, tells Bustle. According to research, there are some physical signs of loneliness that you may not even be aware of.
"Loneliness takes an extreme toll on us given that humans are social beings by nature," Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, founder of Hello Goodlife, tells Bustle. "I think it's critical that we understand that emotional challenges can come out physically in addition to emotional or psychological symptoms. Frequently, loneliness is a sign of depression and therefore many of the signs will be similar to it."
For instance, when someone is dealing with loneliness, they may isolate themselves and will give up on going out or attempting to find friends. They may experience symptoms of panic, have a disheveled appearance in comparison to before the loneliness, and have changes in their food intake.
"While no study examines the direct relationship between loneliness and effect on health, there are indirect assessments and pathways," Dr. Khubchandani says. "There is a complex interplay of these factors that may impact one's overall physical health." So here are some surprising physical signs of loneliness, according to science.
Body Aches And Pain
"Loneliness can lead to feeling an increase in aches and pains," Aerin Ogden, health and wellness expert with Utah Addiction Centers, tells Bustle. In fact, a 2014 study published in Health Psychology found that adults who experienced chronic loneliness also experienced higher day-to-day pain levels.
But it's not all negative. Researchers also found that when lonely people experienced more "daily positive events" and interactions, they were able to experience much more joy than "non-lonely" people. According to researchers, their findings can be helpful for physicians treating people with loneliness and chronic pain. If they can provide patients with strategies for having more positive interpersonal connections daily, it can help boost their wellbeing.
High Blood Pressure
As Dr. Khubchandani says, some physical symptoms associated with loneliness may start with high blood pressure. In fact, a 2010 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging found that middle and older aged adults (over 50 years-old), who reported feeling lonely experienced an increase in blood pressure over the course of four years. The authors defined loneliness as "the distressing feeling that accompanies discrepancies between one’s desired and actual social relationships," and up to 32 percent of adults over 55 will report feeling lonely at some point.
Chronic Inflammation Throughout The Body
Research has found links between feelings of loneliness and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. People who feel lonely tend to have higher levels of cortisol. When your body is stressed, your inflammatory response system will be affected. "The stress of loneliness can cause inflammation in body systems, leading to heart disease and stroke," Dr. Khubchandani says.
Lower Skin Temperatures
A 2012 study published in the journal Acta Psychologica found that loneliness and social exclusion leads to lower skin temperatures. As researchers wrote, "People feel colder because they are colder." For instance, in one study, participants who were excluded in an online ball tossing game were found to have lower finger temperatures than those who were included. Interestingly enough, holding something warm like a cup of warm tea helped in reversing the effects of social exclusion.
Constant Tiredness Due To Lack Of Sleep
A 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that feelings of loneliness are linked to bad sleep quality, especially in young adults. The effects tend to be more significant in those who were exposed to violence during childhood.
Confusion And Memory Problems
A 2018 study published in the journal Psycho-Oncology found links between feelings of social connectedness and brain health. According to the study, breast cancer survivors who had high degrees of loneliness had higher rates of concentration and memory issues than those who felt more socially connected.
Overall, loneliness can affect your health in negative ways. It's important to keep in mind that these signs and symptoms are all links. Loneliness may be a major factor, but it's hard to say it directly causes things like lack of sleep and lower body temperatures.
Regardless, Latimer says, signs of loneliness should be taken seriously. "I highly encourage us to ask others if they are OK instead of assuming someone else will say something (that's called the bystander effect)," she says. "It's important to recognize that at the extreme, loneliness can be a precursor to hopelessness which can have devastating outcomes."
So be mindful of the people around you. If you're the one feeling lonely, there's really no harm in reaching out to someone for help.
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