Loneliness is a disease that changes the brain.


Person alone

Loneliness.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Loneliness doesn’t just feel bad; it makes you sick.

According to the British Psychological Society, researchers have concluded that loneliness, rather than being the result of physical and mental health problems, may be a direct cause. Higher than normal levels of loneliness have been connected with a number of physical diseases. Loneliness not only changes the way you think about things and your feelings but eventually, over time, it can change the very structure and chemistry of your brain. Here are some of the ways that loneliness affects your physical and mental health.

Loneliness is bad for your physical health.

Loneliness, living alone, and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010) Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)

Loneliness impairs your sleep.

One study in Health Psychology found that loneliness impairs the quality of sleep and leaves you feeling more tired the next day, even if you get the same number of hours of sleep that night.

This connection works in both directions. Being lonely impairs the quality of your sleep. Poor sleep quality impairs your daytime functioning, making you more likely to avoid others and increases your loneliness.

Lonely people have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

Being lonely increases sleep latency, meaning it takes you longer to fall asleep and may result in difficulty staying asleep. Both of these lead to daytime drowsiness and impaired health and functioning.

Lonely people have higher blood pressure.

Loneliness can increase your blood pressure as much is thirty points. Loneliness increases the blood pressure just about as much as losing weight decreases it. People with the highest blood pressure also are likely to score highest on measures of loneliness.

Being lonely decreases your resistance to diseases.

Loneliness leads to chronic stress and inflammation, which can weaken your immune system. It’s the feeling of being lonely rather than the objective measure of social isolation, which leads to reduced resistance to diseases. Even when you have plenty of relationships, you can feel lonely if the quality of those relationships is poor

Lonely people have impaired cognitive function.

While being lonely affects sleep and lack of sleep impairs cognitive function, the relationship goes even deeper. When you’re using up a lot of your cognitive abilities being under constant stress and feeling lonely, you don’t have much capacity left to focus your thinking.

Lonely people have an increased risk of developing dementia.

Considering all the other things loneliness does to your nervous system, it’s not surprising that being lonely puts you at an increased risk of developing dementia. Of course, that probably runs in the other direction also, people with dementia are more likely to experience loneliness. Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease, and depression. (Valtorta et al, 2016) (James et al, 2011) (Cacioppo et al, 2006)

Loneliness causes depression.

Feelings of loneliness are a major factor in depression. Not feeling loved or supported is depressing. People with depression tend to avoid other people and often have negative thinking patterns. If you believe you’re being rejected, you are likely to develop depression.

You won’t live as long if you’re lonely.

Chronic loneliness shortens the lifespan. Other mental illnesses reduce lifespan also. Having a mental or emotional problem that goes untreated puts you at risk for early death. Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)

Health risk information from The Campaign to End Loneliness.

For more on this topic, look at the materials on The Campaign to End Loneliness website.

Have you been feeling more or less lonely lately? What have you done to cope with feelings of loneliness and isolation?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story BureauStory Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty Baldwin takes a job in the capital city working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

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.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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