Loneliness Can Make You Ill: Find a Friend, Befriend a Loner
By Shlomo Maital
Reading my wife’s copy of the American Psychological Association’s MONITOR magazine, I found an article citing a study by John Cacioppo, showing that “the perception of loneliness” is closely linked to higher rates of mortality.
It is the perception that is the problem. “It’s not being alone or not” that affects your health, Cacioppo says. “You can feel terribly isolated even when you’re around other people.” And indeed some people actually enjoy being alone.
But there are those who perceive that they are alone, no matter how many friends and relatives they have to interact with. Loneliness can make people feel chronically threatened, and this emotion can wear on the immune system.
We’ve known for a long time that our emotional wellbeing is directly, physiologically, linked to our immune system. I have several friends who have experienced highly stressful situations and have fallen ill afterward. Apparently, the feeling of being all alone, with no one there to ‘catch our back’, is one of those emotional stress factors.
I wonder whether Generation Y, the ‘connected generation’, the kids who permanently, 24/7, connected to one another by their smartphones, will feel less lonely than the older generations, when they cross 50. I wonder whether a cell phone SMS is a good substitute for a face-to-face hug or smile. I guess we will find out.
I guess one action item emerging from this is: If you’re feeling lonely, find a friend; if you know someone who’s feeling lonely, be a friend. You may save a life. And it may be your own.
* John Cacioppo, et al. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, 2008. [study of 2,100 adults ages 50 and older].