Fact: Few emotions are more insidious on your overall health and well-being than prolonged and acute loneliness. As lonely people can tell you, it often feels like a pit of despair, and those feelings wreak havoc on your body in startling ways, causing anxiety and depression, increasing risk of suicide (or other violent behavior), and can even be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
But making matters worse, experts say, lonely people are often their own worst enemy, and can compound their loneliness by actually judging themselves for it—blaming themselves and attacking their own sense of self-worth for lacking friends and feeling alienated—and ultimately fail to take the necessary steps to engaging more with the world around them. Now, if this sounds in any way 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 your loneliness needs to be addressed soonest. If any ring true, consider seeking out professional help immediately.
Your heart disease is getting worse.
Do you have a heart condition that seems to be worsening with no known cause? Your loneliness may be to blame. When Danish researchers analyzed 13,463 patients with heart conditions like arrhythmia, heart failure, and heart valve disease, they found that feeling lonely was associated with a doubled mortality risk.
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 one 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.
You’re holding onto excess belly fat.
People who feel lonely have higher levels of stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream—and this isn’t good news as far as your waistline is concerned. According to research from Yale University, heightened levels of cortisol can cause even non-overweight individuals to pack on the pounds in the abdominal area, where fat loss is much more difficult.
You’re getting diagnosed with various chronic conditions.
Loneliness is just as capable of affecting your physical wellbeing as it is of messing with your mental health. In fact, according to research from Ohio State University, people who are lonely experience an increase in inflammation-related proteins when exposed to stress, and that inflammation can lead to conditions like type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.
Your memory is starting to fade.
If you want to keep your mind sharp well through your senior years, then try to make as many meaningful connections as possible to avoid feeling lonely. According to one 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 suffering from anxiety issues.
Feeling lonely can take a serious toll on your mental health. Without a strong support system of friends and family members to whom you can vent, you are much more vulnerable to your anxieties—often to the point that they take over and control every little thing you do. In fact, according to one 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.
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 friendless? Well, according to one study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, the combination of a limited friend group with a feeling of isolation can contribute to a 65 percent increase in depressive symptoms.
Your blood pressure has reached unhealthy levels.
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, lonely adults have blood pressures that are as much as 30 points higher than people with many a social connection.
You get the flu more than most.
With flu season fast approaching, now’s a good time to take care of your lonesomeness before it makes you sick. 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.
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 Dr. J. Ryan Fuller, a NYC-based psychologist and weight loss specialist. “It is one of the most common overeating triggers, is associated with overeating for those attempting to restrict calories, and produces passive coping strategies.”
Your cold symptoms are always severe.
The common cold usually isn’t that bad, but if you don’t feel like you have any meaningful connections in your life, then a simple bout of rhinovirus might feel like the end of the world. That’s according to one study published in Health Psychology, which concluded that 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 and frozen meals that provide little to no nutrients.
You struggle to cope with 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 do so poorly. In fact, according to one 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 have an eating disorder.
When researchers from Penn State Hershey Medical Center analyzed the relationship between various eating disorders and loneliness, they found that “negative interpersonal relationships, both real experiences and individuals’ skewed perceptions, exacerbate eating disorders and feelings of loneliness.”
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 lies in 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 feel connected.
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, Psy.D., 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 Dr. John Mayer explained to Bustle: “Loneliness can be responsible for headaches. In fact, two-thirds of people with loneliness experience headaches as a result of this depressed emotional state.”
Your heartbeat randomly quickens with no physical trigger.
Many lonely people suffer from anxiety as a result of their predicament. And though anxiety is a mental health issue, it also manifests itself in several physical symptoms like shaking, hyperventilation, and a rapid heart rate.
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.
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