Today. 6/26/2019, Dr. Oz takes an in-depth look into the health problems that loneliness can create. We have all walked thru nursing homes and seen the despair in the elderly’s eyes, witnessed the trauma of the homeless, and even seen what the feeling of being alone does to children. We are not meant to be an island in the world. We gather strength and a feeling of purpose from being with others. If you’re one of the 75 percent grappling with the emotional side of loneliness, there’s a chance you might be overlooking the physical symptoms.
What is loneliness?
According to Dr. Stuart L. Lustig, MD, MPH, National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health at Cigna, essentially, loneliness is the “distress, or emotional pain, that someone feels about a lack of connections with other people,” that often occurs when “others are not as available as much as we would want, or because the quality of interactions with them isn’t emotionally fulfilling.”
It’s normal to experience periods of what’s called episodic loneliness, when, say, you move to a new city, or switch jobs. But, if there comes a time when you feel lonely more often than when you don’t feel lonely, or when you become more inclined to withdraw from others in your everyday life, that’s when episodic loneliness becomes chronic loneliness, Lustig tells DoctorOz. “[Chronic loneliness] can be linked to, and exacerbate, a number of conditions that people may not notice including headaches, high blood pressure, worsening diabetes, upset stomach, physical aches and pains, and overactive immune systems,” Lustig says that, according to research, “loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
These are the most common physical symptoms that can ensue as a result of constant feelings of loneliness.
- Your body’s ability to manage stress may become impaired. Your body is made up of a system of hormones. Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is produced in high levels when your body is stressed in order to help your body cope with stressful situations. When you’re able to socialize, vent out any frustrations you might be harboring, and just genuinely enjoy human connections, your cortisol levels are typically low. But, if you were to experience highly stressful situations at a time when you didn’t feel socially connected with others, your body might not respond well to an excess of cortisol, says Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC-based neuropsychologist.
- Trouble sleeping and lack of energy. According to Hafeez, there are a few key reasons why lonely people tend to be poor sleepers. The first, she explains, is that people who are regularly engaging in social activities tend to sleep better, if for no reason other than because they’ve been stimulated either emotionally, physically, or a combination of both, throughout the day. As a result, when they head to bed, they’re actually tired. Contrarily, lonely people may have less structured lives, lack stimulation, and end up going to bed without feeling tired, she says.
- You might experience a variety of aches and pains. “Stomach and digestive troubles can be precipitated or heightened by hormones released when we’re upset, anxious or worried,” Lustig explains. As a result, your digestion and gut biome might be affected, and a chemical imbalance can take place, compromising the proper functioning of your digestive system.
- Your hunger may change. People may feel hungrier when they feel socially disconnected.
How can you cope through feelings of loneliness?
- It’s important to reach out to a friend, family member, and/or a professional for help.
- While texting is a start, Hafeez highly suggests choosing video chats or phone calls, volunteering, joining clubs, going to a workout class, etc., to help boost your self-esteem.
- Getting out of the house and interacting with others, but another way to feel less lonely Hafeez says is to go outside and soak in the sunlight. “Getting active and out in the sunshine can help elevate endorphins and serotonin,” Hafeez explains. “These “brain hormones” can boost mood, help improve sleep, and make people feel happier.”
- Joining a support group, especially if the condition is a side effect of another issue you might be dealing with, such as substance abuse, grieving the loss of a loved one, going through a divorce or break up, etc. In receiving support and encouragement from others in similar situations, Hafeez tells DoctorOz.com that this sort of company and aid can help ease symptoms of chronic loneliness.
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