Loneliness and Mental Health
Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General released a statement calling attention to a growing public health crisis: Loneliness. This called attention to a phenomenon that mental health experts have been working on for years. While this is not a new health crisis, it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to this, nearly half of all American adults endorsed feeling loneliness.
“Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders. Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.
What’s the problem with loneliness?
Physical Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness can have several physical effects on the body. These include:
1. Increased stress: When people feel lonely, their bodies release higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. This can lead to increased blood pressure, decreased immunity, and even an increased risk of developing heart disease.
2. Poor sleep: People who feel lonely may experience difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to feelings of exhaustion and lethargy.
3.Unhealthy habits: Some people turn to unhealthy habits like overeating, drinking, or smoking as a way to cope with loneliness. These habits can have long-term negative effects on the body.
4. Chronic pain: Studies have shown that people who feel lonely are more likely to experience chronic pain, possibly due to increased stress and inflammation.
Psychological Effects of Loneliness
In addition to physical effects, loneliness can have several psychological effects on individuals. These include:
1. Depression: Feeling lonely can often lead to feelings of sadness and depression, particularly if the loneliness is prolonged or chronic.
2. Anxiety: People who feel lonely may also experience increased levels of anxiety and worry, particularly about social situations.
3. Low self-esteem: Loneliness can cause people to feel isolated and disconnected from others, leading to lower self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
4. Cognitive decline: Studies have shown that prolonged loneliness can lead to cognitive decline, particularly in older adults.
The Importance of Connection
Brene Brown is a social worker, researcher, and author who stresses the importance of connection. She argues that humans have a fundamental need for connection and that it greatly affects our well-being. Brown highlights that social isolation and loneliness can negatively impact our mental and physical health.
Connection provides us with a sense of belonging, which is essential to our well-being. When we feel like we belong, we are better equipped to handle challenges and take risks. Cultivating empathy is also vital for building strong relationships. Brown believes that empathy allows us to understand and relate to others better. Connection can help us combat shame by allowing us to share our experiences and feel understood and supported.
Finally, Brown notes that connection can help us find meaning in our lives. Feeling connected to others can give us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. In summary, Brown stresses that connection is critical for our overall well-being, and building strong connections with others can significantly benefit our mental and physical health, and quality of life.
There are several ways to combat loneliness, both in terms of physical and psychological effects. These include:
1. Social interaction: Building connections with others, either through volunteering, joining social groups, or simply spending time with friends and family, can help combat feelings of loneliness.
2. Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and well-being, making it an effective way to combat loneliness.
3. Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or other forms of relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety, improving overall mental health.
4. Seek professional help: If feelings of loneliness persist, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be an effective way to address underlying mental health issues.
In conclusion, loneliness can have both physical and psychological effects on individuals. However, there are several effective ways to combat this feeling, including social interaction, exercise, mindfulness, and seeking professional help. By taking proactive steps to combat loneliness, individuals can improve their overall physical and mental health, leading to a happier, more fulfilling life.
If you are experiencing loneliness, contact us to schedule a free consultation