To stay healthy, we fight colds, infections, even cancer. But what about fighting loneliness?
Loneliness can be as harmful to our physical health as any other disease. In recent years, experts have proven the link between loneliness and illness. From increased inflammation to high blood pressure to dementia — feelings of isolation can cause all kinds of physical problems. If you only feel lonely from time to time, don’t worry, it’s normal. But if you are feeling chronically lonely, you may need to address it.
How does loneliness affect your physical health?
The physical effects of loneliness can show up in many different ways. Weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, dementia, and higher mortality rates are all potential consequences of chronic loneliness. Feeling isolated can also lead to mental illnesses like depression, substance use disorder(s), and suicidal ideation. It is linked to increased inflammation as well, which experts believe is the leading cause of all disease.
How do you know if you feel lonely?
We can usually tell when we are feeling big emotions like sadness, or excitement, or fear. But loneliness can be less obvious. How can you tell if you’re lonely? Here are some signs of loneliness that might surprise you:
- Constant fatigue
- Sudden weight gain
- Binge TV watching
- Too much online shopping
- Long showers
Everyone takes showers, and most of us watch TV. But when we are watching five hours of Netflix a night or taking 60-minute showers, chances are we have a void inside that we’re trying to fill. If we look hard enough, we could be trying to avoid feelings of loneliness.
How to Fight Off Loneliness
If loneliness is such an enemy of our physical and mental well-being, what can we do to fight it? Rest, eat a balanced diet, get you’re getting your steps in once a day, and talk to a counselor if you’re struggling. But what if you’re doing all these things and you’re still lonely?
Here are some additional ideas that could help you feel less lonely:
- Reach out regularly. Call a family member or friend consistently. Make sure you Zoom or Face Time every so often, too. Talking to someone face to face helps us feel more deeply connected.
- Volunteer virtually. Helping others, even remotely, is a great way to stay active and useful. From volunteermatch.com to this AARP Guide for Virtual Volunteers, there is always an opportunity to help those in need.
- Get into a group. Become a member at your local community or fitness center, take up a new hobby or start a continuing ed class, or find faith-based activities at your church or temple.
- Keep inflammation low. Feelings of loneliness can raise cortisol (stress) levels in your body. More cortisol is more inflammation! An anti-inflammatory or mediterranean diet, breathing deeply every day, and engaging in light exercise all help to decrease cortisol and inflammation.
- Give thanks. Every day, think of three things you are grateful for. Practicing gratitude daily for the big and little things helps your mindset become more positive more of the time.
Remember, taking care of yourself and staying socially active shouldn’t feel like hard work. Yes, eat that broccoli, take that walk. But don’t forget to have some fun! Laughter, especially with others, is one of best ways to stay healthy and happy. You can’t fight anything alone, so join up with others and fight loneliness together.