Sometimes spending time alone is necessary, but prolonged social isolation can have some serious health effects. Feeling lonely can take a toll on your mental health, but there are also some unexpected physical symptoms of loneliness that can occur as well. Because our mental health and physical health are so intertwined, it's no surprise that suffering from loneliness can do some damage to your body as well.
"Loneliness can trigger many emotions: sadness, anxiety about our connections (or lack thereof), fear, and many more," clinical psychologist Ashley Chin, Psy.D. tells Bustle. "Our emotions are felt and experienced within our bodies, thanks to our nervous systems, and there is a strong mind-body connection that helps us to interpret and understand what we are experiencing physically. So, while loneliness might seem like something that is being experienced through our thoughts or in our hearts, it is actually being felt throughout our body."
Some time alone can be necessary for our mental state, but if you are too socially isolated, it can have greater implications for your overall health. Spending time around others and forging meaningful connections can help mitigate these effects. Here are eight little-known physical symptoms that can occur as a result of being lonely, according to experts.
In addition to our emotions, loneliness can start to impact your memory as well. "In some cases loneliness can stem from depression, and studies have shown that forgetfulness and confusion has been linked to depression," therapist Melissa Dumaz, MS, LMFT tells Bustle. "Memory problems due to loneliness can make it challenging to focus at work, school, or other tasks. This can also impact decision making and one’s ability to think clearly."
If loneliness is causing emotional distress, you may find ourselves with increased pain or muscle tension. "Stress can cause muscle tension, and depression has been associated with increased pain perception," clinical psychologist Helen Odessky Psy.D tells Bustle. This can include weak knees, leg fatigue, leg/foot cramps, lower back pain, etc.
Since stress, depression, and anxiety can all impact digestion this can cause distress, which often affects the gastrointestinal system. "When we experience distress, our bodies prepare for fight-or-flight, meaning that our bodily functions (like digestion) are put to a halt to prepare us," says Chin. "This can mean that your stomach might get crampy or that you might even have some gastrointestinal distress."
In somewhat of a catch 22, being lonely makes you less likely to want to be romantically involved with other people. Feeling stressed or overburdened can cause your libido to go down, according to Psychology Today. "Loneliness causes decreased interest in sex, romance, and love clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer tells Bustle.
5Weaker Immune System
Lonely people might also find that they get sick more often. "Studies show a strong link between loneliness and suppression of the immune system," says Dr. Mayer. "Interesting fact: vaccinations are less effective in sad/lonely people." Research has found that loneliness can cause chronic inflammation, and it can also cause levels of norepinephrine in the body to rise, which can shut down immune functions like viral defense.
"Loneliness can be responsible for headaches," says Dr. Mayer "In fact two-thirds of people with loneliness experience headaches as a result of this depressed emotional state." Again, since pain tolerance is lowered when people are depressed, the emotions you experience from loneliness can heighten things like headaches and migraines.
Loneliness can affect people's appetite in different ways. "You might experience a loss or reduction in appetite and 'lose' your taste for food, or you might turn to food as an emotional coping mechanism," says Chin. "We have different types of hunger, including soul hunger, which we can often misinterpret as our bodies' desire for food. This could really be a longing for emotional connection or a hunger for belonging."
Loneliness can impact your sleeping habits in several ways, from causing you to oversleep to preventing you from sleeping enough. "Loneliness can keep you in bed and away from opportunities to engage with others," says Dumaz. "Loneliness can also create insomnia. Lack of sleep can reduce our energy and translate into not enough energy to get out and engage with others."
To alleviate these physical issues, it's best to find a way to reach out and connect with others and minimize your levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.