Loneliness is the mental health crisis no one wants to talk about. Reports show it can take up to 90 hours to feel close enough to someone to call them a friend, but sometimes life can get in the way of forming meaningful relationships. There are a multitude of methods to combat loneliness, but in the meantime, here are 17 things to be aware of if you’re feeling lonely.
Increased Risk of Dementia
Loneliness may not be its own medical diagnosis, as it’s a subjective disproportionate amount of time alone as compared to desired social interactions, but it does have actual health consequences. In a study by Samia Akhter-Khan and Qiushan Tao, they state, “Being persistently lonely during midlife (ages 45–64) appears to make people more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.”
Loneliness and depression share some common symptoms, such as helplessness and pain. They can both interrupt sleep patterns and leave one awake at night feeling hopeless. It’s a short step from chronic loneliness to depression.
Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke
Loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of stroke or death by heart attack by 30%. Research shows social isolation alone is rarely a factor in the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but the risk of hospitalization or even death went up by 15% in those who expressed feeling lonely.
Lonely people are more likely to see events as stressful compared to their counterparts. Stress affects “the autonomic nervous system, a central network of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves regulating innate and adaptive immune responses. Socialization can induce changes in the immune system by either slowing or activating the immune response by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.”
We’ve all heard of “eating our feelings” or “bored eating.” When someone is combating chronic loneliness, food can become their comfort. Considering people rarely reach for a salad over chocolate cake because they’re sad, too much comfort food can be bad for your health.
For some people, a reason to live can bring them back from the brink of death. The opposite can also happen when someone feels as though they have nothing to live for or that no one would care if they were gone. Ailments with lower mortality rates can suddenly become deadly when loneliness is added to the mix, increasing the odds of death by more than 50%.
Another way to fill the void is by drinking. Some will go out to the bar to surround themselves with people, all the while still feeling completely alone. Others will stay home and pour a drink or several to numb the feelings of loneliness. If left unchecked, alcohol can have severe physical and mental health risks.
Lack of Exercise
Social aspects of life can be the motivation one needs to get exercise. When someone is suffering from depression caused by loneliness, the urge to stay home in bed all day can win over the much healthier option of exercise. When we exercise, we release endorphins, which decrease our stress and increase our happiness.
It’s easy to believe the poor sleep associated with loneliness is just the strained ability to cope with day-to-day stressors without the social interaction we as humans are designed to need. Bei Wu, Ph.D., believes “the connection between loneliness and sleep problems is a complex issue. One theory suggests that humans are hardwired to feel vulnerable when they perceive their environment as unsafe—a common feeling among those who are lonely. This could lead to an unconscious vigilance that disrupts sleep.”
In a study by the University of Eastern Finland, they found that “loneliness increased the risk of cancer by about ten percent. This association with the risk of cancer was observed regardless of age, socio-economic status, lifestyle, sleep quality, depression symptoms, body mass index, heart disease, and their risk factors. In addition, cancer mortality was higher in cancer patients who were unmarried, widowed, or divorced at baseline.”
Low-Quality Social Relationships
To combat loneliness, people will surround themselves with others. Often, these friendships are more out of convenience than the actual quality of the friendship. Author Kendra Cherry says that “experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but the quality.”
Anxiety is a constant sense of dread or worry, even when there’s nothing to worry about. Loneliness can lead to overthinking about why you’re alone and what your life means. It can also be amplified by not reaching out to someone to talk about your anxiety.
“Although social isolation and feeling lonely are related, they are not the same thing,” says Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené. “Individuals can lead a relatively isolated life and not feel lonely, and conversely, people with many social contacts may still experience loneliness.” Even those with a wide social network can begin to isolate socially when feelings of loneliness become heavy.
Lower Life Satisfaction
The most successful person can still feel completely alone. No matter social standing, career success, or any other measure of a man’s life, when he feels alone, if none of it seems to matter, it can lead to a feeling of low life satisfaction.
Perception of Relationships
Lonely men can push away people who are trying to be there for them, feeling misunderstood, regardless of the reality of their relationships. When these relationships do end, the feelings become justified in the mind, and loneliness solidifies further.
Sense of Purpose
When you don’t know who you’re living for, a sense of purpose can be lost, leaving you feeling as though it doesn’t matter how much money you make, what you do, or where your life is going. A person’s drive can be replaced by apathy and despair.
One of the leading contributing factors to suicide is that when someone feels lonely, they also feel that there’s no one there to help them. Loneliness is one of the leading silent killers of men today. If you need someone to talk to, call or text 988 or text ‘HOME’ to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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