15 Subtle Signs Your Loneliness Is Hurting Your Health
From headaches to high blood pressure, this is how feeling lonely may manifest in your body.
Few emotions have a more insidious impact on your well-being than feeling alone—something people around the world are feeling now more than ever due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. And, it turns out that often times loneliness is unhealthy and can wreak havoc on your body in startling ways—leading to everything from anxiety and depression to destructive behaviors and thoughts of suicide.
Unfortunately, people that are lonely often resort to blaming themself for feeling the way they do—destroying their sense of self-worth and inhibiting them from making any progress towards engaging with the world around them. If this sounds in like you—or if you're simply curious about how loneliness harms your health—read on, because here we've compiled all of the tell-tale signs that you need to address your loneliness with yourself as well as someone that can help you work through it. And for more on how exactly being alone can become unhealthy, check out The Startling Ways Loneliness Can Destroy Your Health.
You feel tired all the time.
People who feel unsatisfied with the relationships in their lives often experience many a sleepless night, leading to difficulty concentrating and exhaustion throughout the day. In fact, according to a study published in Psychological Medicine, people who are lonely are 24 percent more likely than their social counterparts to feel fatigued and have trouble staying focused. And to see how not getting enough rest impacts your health, check out 7 Ways Being Sleep Deprived for One Night Affects Your Body.
You're struggling to lose weight.
If you want to finally shed those extra pounds, you'll first have to address those underlying issues contributing to your feelings of isolation. "Loneliness poses a significant barrier to the treatment of obesity," explains J. Ryan Fuller, PhD, a psychologist and weight-loss specialist based in New York City. "It is one of the most common overeating triggers for those attempting to restrict calories, and produces passive coping strategies." And to learn what you shouldn't do to shed those extra pounds, check out 45 Unhealthy Weight Loss Tips Experts Say to Avoid at All Costs.
Your memory is starting to fade.
If you want to help keep your mind sharp as you age, try to make as many meaningful connections as possible to avoid feeling lonely. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, individuals with high levels of cortical amyloid, a marker of preclinical Alzheimer's disease, are 7.5 times more likely to report feeling lonely than those who are negative for the Alzheimer's marker.
You're experiencing anxiety.
Without a strong support system of friends and family members to whom you can confide in, you are much more vulnerable to your anxieties—often to the point that they take control of every little thing you do. In fact, according to a study published in Psychological Medicine, young adults grappling with loneliness are more than twice as likely to have mental health issues, like anxiety, that impact their day-to-day lives and impair their ability to work, go to school, and—ironically—socialize.
And dealing with depression.
It's a common misconception that if you don't have many friends, then you are, by default, lonely. However, there are many people out there who purposely keep their inner circle small and prefer it that way. As for the other people who aren't choosing to go it alone? Well, according to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a lack of friends, combined with feelings of isolation, can contribute to a 65 percent increase in depressive symptoms.
You have high blood pressure.
Heart disease, stroke, and aneurysm are just some of the things that hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure, can cause if left untreated—and for some people, the cure to their blood pressure problems might just be a few new friendships. But how are your blood pressure and bonding related, you ask? Well, per research from the University of Chicago, a lonely adult can have blood pressure that is as much as 30 points higher than that of someone more social.
You get the flu more than most.
According to research published in Health Psychology, being lonely and having few social connections can make your body less responsive to the flu vaccine, therefore making you more prone to getting the illness. And if you want to protect yourself from influenza, then try these 20 Habits That Slash Your Flu Risk.
And your cold symptoms are more severe.
It's not just flu that loneliness makes you more susceptible to. According to another study published in Health Psychology, lonely people experience more severe cold symptoms compared to those with satisfactory relationships. Evidently, the predisposition to being lonely combined with the stressor of sickness is enough to turn a common cold into something that feels much worse.
You're always eating junk food.
"If you're cooking for other people, you're more likely to prepare a healthier meal that contains a range of foods—a meat, a starch, a vegetable—than if you're just throwing together something for yourself," Bruce Rabin, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program, explained to ABC News. When you only have one person to cook for—yourself—and nobody keeping you accountable, it's all too easy to fall into a routine of eating fast food or frozen meals that provide little to no nutrients.
You have a difficult time managing stress.
Though everybody has some amount of stress to deal with, people who are forced to manage that stress sans a support system tend to have a more difficult time doing so. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Psychiatry, social support enhances a neurochemical response in the brain that makes it easier to handle being overwhelmed—and conversely, a lack of support makes your reaction to stress all the more intense.
You experience physical pain with no logical explanation.
Have you ever had an unexplained body ache that coincidentally coincided with an instance of feeling lonely? Believe it or not, sometimes the emotional pain you feel upon being rejected translates into real, physical pain. Per one study published in the journal Science, your brain responds to feelings of loneliness in the same way it would physical pain, releasing feel-good chemicals to counteract the agony.
You make frequent trips to the doctor's office.
The answer to whether or not you're lonely, may be hidden between the lines of your doctor bills. When researchers from the University of Georgia studied the health habits of older adults, they found that those who were lonely visited the doctor's office approximately 12.7 percent more often than those who were not feeling alone.
You're experiencing stomach cramps.
Stress, depression, and anxiety—all of which are closely linked to loneliness—can all have a big impact on your digestion and lead to things like constipation, diarrhea, and an upset stomach.
"When we experience distress, our bodies prepare for fight-or-flight, meaning that our bodily functions (like digestion) are put to a halt to prepare us," clinical psychologist Ashley Chin, PsyD, explained to Bustle. "This can mean that your stomach might get crampy or that you might even have some gastrointestinal distress."
You get a lot of headaches.
It's not just your stomach that suffers as a result of your loneliness. As clinical psychologist John Mayer explained to Bustle in the same article: "Loneliness can be responsible for headaches. In fact, two-thirds of people with loneliness experience headaches as a result of this depressed emotional state."
You feel dizzy all the time.
According to Medical News Today, one of the physical symptoms that accompanies anxiety is weakness and dizziness—and while this health issue may seem minor, it can seriously get in the way of your daily life and activities.