Loneliness Is Deadlier Than Obesity, Study Suggests

The latest AARP Loneliness Study discovered 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness in the country.

With the advent of smart phones came the rise of increased social isolation in the United States.

According to research, more and more people are now busy living by themselves, and this lifestyle has paved ways for increasing levels of loneliness. 

So, what is wrong with living alone?

According to research, staying lonely can result in health hazards that are riskier than the obesity crisis; some even suggest the condition rivals the risk of smoking.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, presented the findings from two huge meta-analyses at this year's Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, while analyzing links between health and loneliness.

In the first meta-analysis, they reviewed 148 different studies, representing more than 300,000 participants, and discovered, having more social connections was associated with a 50 percent reduction in the risk of early death. The second meta-analysis looked at 70 studies, representing more than 3.4 million individuals from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and found three factors — social isolation, feelings of loneliness and living alone — were all linked with higher risk of early death.

Researchers consider social isolation so deadly because it can lead to a number of issues, including disrupted sleep patterns, high levels of stress, increased inflammation and weaker immune systems.

Any of these risk factors have the ability to put people at a greater risk for disease and life-threatening damage.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need - crucial to both well-being and survival," said Holt-Lunstad.  "Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.”

And it doesn’t look like the problem of loneliness is ending anytime soon. The latest AARP Loneliness Study discovered 42.6 million adults older than 45 suffer from chronic loneliness in the country, and this number is expected to rise with an aging baby boomer population.

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," said Holt-Lunstad.

These three tips can be useful in combating loneliness.

1. Don’t hide your feelings

Talking to a group of friends of concerned family members is always a good idea.

“Building up a support network can ... be vital for when you aren’t feeling so good,” said Paul Spencer, a policy manager at a mental health charity called Mind. “We know that over half of people who have experienced depression or anxiety isolate themselves from friends and family.”

2. Make new connections

If you feel like the friends and families surrounding you don’t quite understand what you’re situation is, make newer friends. Keeping a pet also counts as making a new connection.

Sixty-two percent of American households own a pet.

According to a national survey, most pet owners say companionship, love, company and affection are the top most benefits to owning a pet. According to Harvard Medical School’s online publication, joining a club or signing up for volunteer work are also effective tools to fight social isolation.

3. Change the way you think

People in despair often overthink, but if we change the way we think about others it can help reduce stress. “Retraining how we think about other people,” said John Cacioppo, author of "Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection," in a 2016 interview with Fortune.

“It’s understanding what loneliness is doing and try to correct for the behavior it encourages. Try to be more grateful, more positive, more discerning,” he said.

These tips can be effective, however, different people suffer from — and respond to — the condition differently.

Loneliness can result in a number of mental health issues, such as depression or substance abuse.

Making changes in the way you think, meeting new people and expressing feelings can be effective, but there is also no harm in seeking medical attention for the same.

Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: Pixabay, Wokandapix

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