Loneliness and Physical Health
Loneliness is something that can affect anyone at any time in their lives. It is a feeling of separation and thinking that you’re alone without support, and can be caused by a lack of communication between someone and their loved ones. It is different to isolation as isolation is a physical separation which can be improved by seeing and speaking to people again, whereas loneliness is a feeling and can therefore be a bit harder to shake.
Many of us have felt lonely throughout the pandemic. The restrictions and lockdowns affected everyone’s ability to see their loved ones in the ways that we were used to, and turning to phone calls or Zooms couldn’t quite replace the feeling of seeing each other and catching up in person. While things are returning to a new form of normal, many of us will find getting back to our usual social activities a bit strange and so the feeling of loneliness can continue.
What you might not know about loneliness is that it affects people physically as well as mentally. According to psychologists and EU Fact Check, long-term loneliness can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Dr Holt-Lunstaad published research into loneliness back in 2010, which revealed that lonely people are 50% more likely to die early than people with strong social connections. “Social connection is crucial to human development, health, and survival,” explained Dr Holt-Lunstaad.
Loneliness can also cause insomnia, impact on our immune systems, increase blood pressure, and trigger depression when it lasts for an extended period of time. However, these are the extremes and there are numerous ways to combat loneliness and lessen the chances of anyone experiencing these physical symptoms.
The organisation Campaign to End Loneliness explains that there are three main types of loneliness. The first is emotional loneliness, where someone doesn’t have a close attachment or deep relationship with a partner or close friend. The second is social loneliness, which is a lack of a wide social network of friends, neighbours, or colleagues. The third is existential loneliness, which is how separate people feel from others either close by or across the world. All of these types of loneliness can come and go, but it can also crop up around a certain date or time such as Christmas or someone’s birthday.
It’s easy to underestimate the feelings of loneliness or chalk them up as part of life so you don’t say anything. However, being lonely is a completely valid response and you shouldn’t feel like you can’t speak out about it to your loved ones. There are many ways to help overcome loneliness, and it truly doesn’t have to be forever. Most of the physical effects we mentioned above occur when loneliness has been ongoing for a long time, but no matter how long the loneliness has lasted, there is always a sunny path on the other side of it. It can seem hard and feel almost impossible to escape from, but loneliness doesn’t have to be a long-term companion and there are lots of ways to feel or completely remove the feeling of being lonely. You can check out some of our ideas and activities to combat loneliness in our Mental Health Month resource pack here.
Loneliness is on the rise but it doesn’t have to be. People need human connection and contact to help each other thrive, grow, and stay healthy, and while the world has changed since the pandemic, the need for love and support from each other remains and is stronger than ever. If you are experiencing loneliness, then please reach out to a loved one or someone you trust or call any of the helplines below at any time. It’s hard to break the cycle of loneliness, but it’s truly worth it for your physical, mental, and emotional health; no-one deserves to be lonely.
Sense offers support and advice for people with a disability and loneliness- 0300 330 9256
Cruse offers support with bereavement and grief- 0808 808 1677
Calm Zone offers help and support, including a web chat, for men in the UK who are struggling and need to talk- 0800 585858
The Silver Line offers a safe space for older people to ask for advice, information, or just to talk- 0800 470 80 90
Age UK offers support and advice for older people- 0800 169 6565
Independent Age offers befriending services for older people- 0800 319 6789
YoungMinds offers support for people under the age of 25 who are in crisis- text YM to 85258. If you are a parent, YoungMinds offer a parent helpline on 0808 802 5544.
Childline offers support for children and young people along with counselling sessions- 0800 1111