Being lonely does more than make us feel sad. It can also cause us to die prematurely. Studies of elderly people found that those without strong social circles are twice as likely to die early. In fact, loneliness can reduce our lifespan just as much as smoking can and twice as often as obesity. This is scary because experts say nearly half of today’s adults are lonely.
Health-and-loneliness expert Dr. John Cacioppo says we get a health boost from social support which comes from having people in our life who know us well, that we can depend on and who can depend on us in return. And without that strong connection, you can literally be lonely even if you’re surrounded by people.
But why does loneliness hurt our health? Experts say it’s because social isolation lowers our immune function and increases inflammation. Both of which dramatically raise our risk for arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Another reason: Lonely people feel like nobody’s got their back. So their brain is always on the alert for threats making them far more likely to be on edge, even in bed. This means, they don’t get a solid, restful night’s sleep which raises their risk for car accidents, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
The fix: Focus on meeting new people by joining new groups, finding new sports or hobbies, or volunteering. And Dr. Cacioppo has this suggestion: Use the Internet by visiting chat rooms for topics and activities you’re interested in. He says that people who meet online can often develop friendships more quickly than those who meet in person. That’s because we tend to open up more easily in writing than we do verbally and that creates a stronger connection.