Suffering is not the only consequence of loneliness. In lonely people, the body is constantly exposed to stimulation, which, in turn, is a serious risk factor for the development of a certain group of diseases.
Although loneliness is not a disease, the condition can contribute to the development of certain diseases. It’s not just about depression, it can also have a specific effect on the physical condition of our body. However, it should be remembered that loneliness is very subjective and we can experience this state even when we are among people. There is no specific pattern to how people experience loneliness—external factors such as isolation can trigger the condition, but are never the sole culprit. However, it is worth remembering that it is completely natural for everyone to feel lonely from time to time, but the main thing is how we cope with this condition. It is also known that loneliness can cause more harm than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Recent research also shows that lonely people have difficulty distinguishing real people from fictional characters.
Loneliness and illness – research
Dr. Lukasz Okruszek from the Institute of Psychology of the Polish Academy of Sciences tested how loneliness affects human physiology. The idea for the study came to the scientist from social psychology. However, he explored an aspect that this area of psychology does not address, namely the effect of loneliness on the human body. It turns out that loneliness, in addition to affecting our psyche, can also lead to cardiovascular diseases.
The scientist and his team “induced” artificial loneliness in subjects in laboratory conditions. The study was conducted on 129 people. Thus, the researchers checked how the physiological states change in a person in this state. “After respondents completed questionnaires measuring, among other things, personality traits, we gave a randomly selected group of participants information that, based on the results, led to the conclusion that they would be single in the future. We then checked how such information affected the measured ECG parameters and brain activity,” said Dr. Lukasz Okruszek in an interview with PAP.
How does loneliness affect the human body?
Loneliness is a special type of stressor – it increases the resistance of the body’s systems that should protect it from the negative consequences that it leads to. “In response to a stimulus – the thought of loneliness awaiting us in the future – the activity of the immune and sympathetic systems increases – so we can say that our body is in a state of increased activation and readiness for “defense”. However, the reaction of the parasympathetic system, which balances them work is reduced, and after a period of mobilization in a healthy functioning body, it allows us to rest,” the scientist explained.
In lonely people, the body is constantly stimulated, and the parasympathetic system does not compensate for this reaction. Consequently, this may lead to decreased heart rate variability, which is associated with decreased parasympathetic response. Researchers have already observed this in people in whom they only caused feelings of loneliness for a short period of time.
“Chronic loneliness and long-term lack of contact with other people exist serious risk factor, including cardiovascular diseases. This knowledge should also be disseminated at the primary care physician level. The therapist should ask about the patient’s mental well-being. Isn’t it strange that many people know what their blood pressure and cholesterol levels are – but don’t take into account the impact of loneliness or social isolation on their health? This can become a source of suffering that can lead to specific diseases,” concluded Dr. Lukasz Okruszek.
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