By David Joel Miller.
Loneliness has been linked to many illnesses.
While loneliness is a common human emotion, and happens to most people at certain
points in their life, for most people, it is a very negative emotion, with significant consequences. Untreated loneliness can become a debilitating condition, which results in isolation, feelings of emptiness and worthless. People with severe loneliness can feel personally threatened, rejected, and that they lack control of their lives.
Loneliness is often described as the difference between the quality and quantity of the social relationships you have, and the ones you wish you had. Some people experience loneliness only a few times in their life, while other people may experience high levels of loneliness throughout their lifetime. Despite loneliness not being a specific mental or emotional illness, feelings of loneliness play a major role in physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral illnesses.
Loneliness is a risk factor for physical illness.
The health risk from loneliness equals the risk from smoking. (Gerst-Emerson, Jayawardhana, 2015.) Feelings of loneliness make physical health problems worse. Feeling lonely increases blood pressure. Feelings of isolation play a role in eating and sleep disorders. Among people with obesity feelings of loneliness interfere with their ability to lose weight.
Among the elderly, increasing levels of loneliness results in increasing numbers of Dr. visits. While this is believed to be partially caused by a need for more social connection, it may also reflect the way that emotional symptoms are often misinterpreted as signs of physical illness. Fortunately, high levels of loneliness in the elderly do not also translate into more hospitalizations. Among people over the age of 80, more than 50% report being often lonely. Among middle-aged patients, those between 40 and 60 years of age, those who report higher levels of loneliness see their medical doctor more often than those do not report being lonely.
Loneliness makes emotional problems worse.
Feeling lonely has been linked to depression. A common cause of substance use disorder and a relapse trigger for drug and alcohol use are feelings of loneliness. Feelings of isolation can increase stress. Not having a support system makes personality disorders worse, and it has been associated with psychosis, cognitive decline, and dementia. Loneliness can seriously undermine your self-esteem.
Behavioral problems are made worse by loneliness.
Feeling lonely along with binge drinking or drug use increases the risk for suicide attempts. This feeling is also connected with self-harm, such as cutting or other Nonsuicidal self-injury. Loneliness has also been associated with relationship violence and other impulse control problems. Being lonely can make you feel more vulnerable resulting in more vigilance to keep yourself safe, the result is more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Poor sleep results in an increase in grouchiness and irritability.
Cognitive and thinking problems are made worse by loneliness.
People who are isolated and lack a support system are prone to an increase in irrational decision making. When you feel all alone, your mind can fill with unhelpful thoughts. Sometimes loneliness becomes a positive emotion when it encourages people to look at their lives and seek out more connections with other humans. It’s important to connect with people who will have a positive impact on your life. Don’t become so desperate for human connection that you allow negative, abusive people into your life.
Loneliness damages relationships.
Among couples heading for a breakup, we often find that both parties report being lonely. The higher the feelings of loneliness, the more likely the couple is to break up. If you’re in a relationship and feeling lonely, don’t automatically think you need a new partner. Begin by working on yourself, becoming your own best friend, and learning to not feel lonely when you’re by yourself. Also, work on improving the emotional connection you and your partner have.
If you’re suffering from loneliness and it’s starting to damage your health and your relationships now is the time to reach out for help. Consider getting involved in activities where you can make friends and seeking professional help.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.