Is Loneliness Leading To Heart Problems?
As humanity evolved, there was a need to stay together to survive. Prehistoric men bonded and stayed with those they relied on, for their basic human needs of food, shelter and protection. The need to connect comes not just from the need to be happy, but also from the need to feel safe both mentally and physically.
When the word ‘loneliness’ is mentioned, It is assumed that one means ‘being alone.’ But the fact is, that today, one can feel ‘lonely’ even in a crowd, Loneliness is distress experienced when there is a discrepancy between the amount of social contact and intimacy that one has and that one desires.
Loneliness In Current Times
Current changing social patterns contribute to ‘lonely’ people. In earlier times, the elderly enjoyed a hallowed place in society, as head of the family, decision makers and keepers of traditional customs. They were also consulted for everything. But with sociological changes over the years, elders today, tend to be marginalized by their families and friends and this makes them lonely.
It is interesting to note that in today’s digital age, where we are all perpetually connected, we have lost out on social touch and ties. Death, divorce and delayed marriages are also instrumental in enhancing the ‘alone’ population. The death of a partner, spouse or confidante can understandably cause loneliness. While online dating has become common, emotional bonding tends to be less and frequent dating does not necessarily make one feel less alone.
The Health Connection
It was assumed that bad health associated with loneliness was because there was no one to ensure that the person took care of himself or herself. However, research shows that when one feels alone, they feet stressed which leads to ill health. And being lonely can literally break one’s heart. Also, research conducted at The University of California over a period of years has shown that there is a link between loneliness and cardiovascular problems.
Among the elderly who described themselves as lonely, an increased risk of death of 22.8 per cent compared with 14.2 per cent among the rest of the group was seen.
Loneliness And Heart Disease
- It has been observed that the risk of heart disease due to loneliness is comparable to the risk posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even smoking. It is probably because lonely people are more likely to indulge in drinking, smoking and exercise less, making them more vulnerable to heart disease.
- Loneliness triggers a series of negative effects on the body, both mental and physical.
- A recent study suggests that the negative effects mimic the aging process and the damage to the cardiovascular system is accelerated.
Stress And Loneliness
- Stress related loneliness is a form of chronic, ongoing stress. Loneliness leads to the increase of the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure, making the heart work harder to pump blood from the heart to the blood vessels. Over time, this can cause hypertension, which is linked with atherosclerosis and heart disease.
- Another research has shown that older adults have higher blood pressure levels, stress and recovered from cardiovascular problems much later.
- It has also been seen that when social contact increased, these changes stopped.
What Can Be Done
- Improve your social skills, It Is important to work on interpersonal relationships and maintain them.
- Many lonely people are victims of circumstances. Professional counselling in times of bereavement, relocation or divorce helps.
- Studies suggest that lonely people overtime, become over sensitive and signs of hostility or rejection are seen. They tend to be negative in their social interactions and expectations. It is hence, important to change their way of thinking and open themselves and try to look at things from another perspective.
- Take part in talks, lectures, conferences and community gatherings.
- Connect with those in your social circle. Make an effort to meet those with whom you are comfortable. Start afresh.
- Getting a pet can help overcome loneliness. Having a pet can control blood pressure, which happen during periods of mental stress caused by loneliness.
- Cultivate hobbies and do things that make you happy. Reach out to others with similar interests.
- The first step is to admit that one is lonely. The next step is to make an effort to break mental barriers and connect with people.
A new mind-set and a fresh start will open up a world of happiness where you can be alone but not ‘lonely’.
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