Loneliness: 5 things you may not know

Loneliness: 5 things you may not know

Nearly everyone feels lonely at one point in their life or other. It may be as a result of a sudden change in life – death of a loved one, breakdown of a relationship, change of job, etc. This is of course temporary but for people for whom it’s a way of life, it can have adverse effects on their health.

Loneliness does not mean the absence of a social circle. One can suffer from loneliness even in a crowd. It stems from the inability to connect with that social circle. It is an intense feeling of social isolation and persists even if there is a sizeable amount of people present in one’s life.  Recent research shows that a brain suffering from loneliness is structurally and biochemically different from a non-lonely brain. Studies are still being conducted to examine the link between mental and physical health and how loneliness affects these but the following are some of the findings.

Similar to physical pain for the brain

Humans are innately social beings. Our prehistoric ancestors relied on social groups for survival. When one feels left out of his or her social group or is unable to connect with them, it is almost like their survival is under threat. Studies show that those regions of the brain light up which register physical pain when a brain is feeling lonely.

In the chronically lonely, studies show, that the hormone released when the body is under stress – cortisol – is constantly present in the body.

Night time sleep disruptions

People suffering from loneliness are unable to get a good night’s sleep as there are more night time sleep disruptions. Researchers found that people from big families or recently married also showed signs of loneliness suggesting that perception to the environment was what determined the state of loneliness rather than the environment itself. Thus, a link exists between loneliness and sleep disruptions and a change in the environment, like change of status from single to married, also may not be enough to alleviate the state of loneliness.

Risk of dementia

A study in 2012 of 2200 older adults in Amsterdam found that participants feeling lonely had a higher chance, almost a 64% chance, of suffering from dementia than those who lived alone.

However, the study did caution that dementia itself could cause the loneliness because the accompanying mood swings with dementia can cause social withdrawals and thus lead to loneliness.

Premature death

Loneliness, as established, has nothing to do with a person’s social circle or how many people there are in that circle. It their perception which leads to loneliness which further leads to a feeling of isolation and withdrawal into self.

These feelings of isolation may well cause people to literally die of loneliness even if they are physically fit.

Heart problems

Chronically lonely people may have an over expression of genes connected to cells that produce inflammatory response to tissue damage, a study said. Long-term inflammation can lead to heart disease and cancer.

However, the study could not find a definitive correlation between loneliness and gene expression.

Doctor Vista Healthcare Resource

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