Loneliness isn’t the same thing as being alone. Some solitude is good for you. But, being alone needs to be a choice in order to be healthy. Elderly people who want companionship yet lack visitors, for example, are more likely to experience the physical and emotional effects of being alone.
Loneliness vs. Isolation
A study defines isolation as a state that arises from having too few or no social relationships. This is contrasted with loneliness, which is the subjective perception of having insufficient social relationships or not enough contact with people. Individuals were considered to be isolated if they met the following criteria:
- Lives alone
- Never goes out of the house
- Has no close relatives
- Never visits anyone
- Has no contact with neighbours
- Is alone for more than 9 hours a day
- Has no telephone
- Nearest neighbour is more than 50 yards away (out of earshot)
Loneliness, on the other hand, had different criteria:
- Wishes for more friends
- Does not see enough of friends and relatives
- Has no confidant
- Has no real friends living nearby
- Does not meet enough people
- Has no one of whom to ask favours
- Spent the previous Christmas alone and lonely
The two are related but distinct. Seniors can be isolated and not feel lonely (and vice versa), which the study touches on in more detail. The fact that these two issues are separate could mean that they affect seniors differently, but more research is necessary to reach a conclusion.
Effects Of Loneliness
- Loneliness and social isolation are damaging our health, both mentally and physically. Being cut off from social interaction is not only a problem for the elderly but also younger people, and the impact it has on our bodies is thought to be equivalent to smoking over a dozen cigarettes a day.
- Loneliness has been found to increase the chance of mortality by 26 percent, as well as increasing the risk of high blood pressure and obesity.
- Doctors were warning that loneliness can be as bad for a person’s health as living with a long-term serious illness such as diabetes.
- As a result, it means that patients who are isolated are more likely to visit the doctor, in part just to have human contact, and more likely to be placed on medication as a consequence.
- This is also adding pressure to the health service, which is already suffering.
- It reduces your immunity, which can increase your risk of disease. But, it also increases inflammation in the body, which can contribute to heart disease and other chronic health conditions.
- Stress will also affect you more if you’re lonely. Financial trouble, health problems, and everyday obstacles may take a bigger emotional toll on individuals who lack social and emotional support.
Quality Relationships Matter More Than Quantity
In a world where many people have hundreds–if not thousands–of social media connections, it’s clear that those connections aren’t a cure for loneliness. It’s not the quantity of connections that matters–it’s the quality. It’s important to recognize when you’re feeling lonely and isolated so you can take steps to improve your social connections.
Whether you choose to start scheduling more coffee dates with friends or you commit to volunteering for a good cause, it’s important to take action. The natural tendency when you feel isolated can be to withdraw even more–which can be downright dangerous. Get out there even when you don’t feel like it and purposely try to connect with people face-to-face. If you’re really struggling to combat loneliness, seek professional help.