In studying women’s health issues and meeting women in my work, it’s clear that loneliness is not only not fun, but it’s actually unhealthy. Researchers have recently asked if people who are alone are at greater risk of dying, and studies are showing that they are—if they feel lonely.
Recent studies are confirming the negative health indicators associated with loneliness. One study found that drug use among young people was higher among those who said they were lonely. Older lonely people tended to have higher blood pressure and poorer sleep quality and were found to be more tense and anxious. Another study found that college freshmen with small social networks and who claimed to be lonely had weaker immune responses to flu vaccinations and higher levels of stress hormones in their blood.
“People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol—a stress hormone,” says Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University. Why is this? “We have always needed others for our survival. It’s in our genes. Therefore, people with social connections feel more relaxed and at peace, which is related to better health.”
Loneliness can be painful, but you can take steps to begin to widen your social horizons and feel connected to others in no time. Not only will you feel better emotionally, but you’ll be able to enjoy the positive health advantages that good friendship brings.