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Throughout the month of August, we will be sharing articles focusing on the subject of loneliness to help raise awareness and positivity during the cold winter months.
Unfortunately loneliness is quite common in our society. Nearly fifty-five per cent of the Australian population feel they lack companionship at least sometimes while one in four Australians feel lonely for three or more days per week. Feeling socially isolated is most prevalent particularly in adolescents and young people, then again in elderly age groups. But how much do you know about the impacts of loneliness on your health and the wider community? Here are some facts and insights that may surprise you:
We Can be Surrounded by Others but Still Feel Lonely
According to the Australian Psychological Society, loneliness can be described as ‘a feeling of distress people experience when their social relations are not the way they would like…a lonely person feels that their relationships are not meaningful and that he or she is not understood by others’. So while we may be surrounded by others, the relationships we have still might not meet our expectations or needs.
Loneliness is Worse for Your Health Than Smoking or Obesity
Research backing the harmful effects of social isolation and loneliness on our health and longevity are well established, with a 2013 New York Times report revealing that loneliness can be detrimental to health by increasing levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and even suicide attempts. Social Isolation and loneliness is becoming a global health epidemic, research shows that lacking meaningful social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, while the effect on mortality is comparable to risk factors such as obesity.
Feeling Lonely Actually Makes us Feel Colder
Psychologists at the University of Toronto conducted a study revealing that those who felt socially excluded estimated the room temperature to be colder than those who felt socially included. And people who felt left out were more likely than others to want hot soup or hot coffee, rather than an apple or soft drink.
Loneliness Suppresses our Immune System
Loneliness can impair the ability of our immune system to function properly, putting us at higher risk for all kinds of illnesses and diseases. This is backed by research conducted in 2015 in the U.S.A by psychology professor John T. Cacioppo and team, who studied the expression of genes in white blood cells and found that people who were feeling lonely had greater inflammation and a weaker immune response.
Loneliness is Contagious
Studies have shown that if non-lonely people spend time with lonely people, they are more likely to become lonely themselves. Therefore the feeling is somewhat contagious, and can spread to other people close to them or in their social group.
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