"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

I'm so lonely I could cry.

After just the opening chords and a bar or two of that haunting melody, you'll probably recognize the old Hank Williams song – the lyrics of which express a sense just about all of us have experienced:

Hear that lonely whippoorwill
He looks too blue to fly.
The midnight train is slowly coming.
I'm so lonely I could cry.

Although the song captures a typical feeling, we now know that it's not only a sense, but a condition that has a really real effect on the body, and because it seems, There can also be the problem of public health – a lot in order that, because the years passed in the brand new UK, the problems of loneliness and social isolation were added to the ministerial portfolio. A survey study there showed that tens of millions of individuals hadn't spoken to a friend or relative in a month – that's lots of silence in your life.

Humans are social creatures. We form every kind of complex alliances, relationships, attachments, loves and hates with one another. If these connections are broken, a person risks health effects throughout the body.

Health risks of loneliness

A brief list from recent research includes:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Decreased cognitive and executive function (preliminary evidence of increased amyloid burden within the brains of lonely people)
  • 26% increased risk of premature death from all causes
  • Decreased sleep quality
  • Increased chronic inflammation and decreased inflammation control (linked to cognitive impairment and risk of dementia)
  • Decreased immune function that increases the danger of many diseases.
  • Increased depressive symptoms
  • Increased fear of social situations (sometimes leading to paranoia)
  • Increased stroke severity (with shorter survival)
  • And, as you'd expect, an overall decrease in subjective sense of well-being.

As early as 1988, a serious review of several studies documented that social isolation was a serious risk factor for mortality, illness, and injury, and indeed as essential a risk factor as smoking, obesity, or hypertension. The effects and prevalence of social isolation have now been confirmed over and over in good studies in addition to within the work of advocacy groups reminiscent of AARP. In a 2010 survey study, AARP found that within the U.S., 35% of adults over the age of 45 were lonely, and loneliness was getting worse—in comparison with 56% of lonely people on the time of the survey five years earlier. I had few friends. . A 2012 study found a better proportion of single people: 40%. The AARP survey found (as produce other studies) that loneliness is linked to poor health.

But it is barely recently that mapping basic neurobiology and neuroendocrinology has change into possible, using latest technologies.

Effects of Loneliness on the Brain

Here are some ways loneliness manifests within the mind:

  • Areas of the brain related to pain perception.
  • Gray matter density decreases in an element of the brain related to social perception.
  • Areas of the brain related to “mentalizing” (imagining other people's minds) have decreased activity.
  • The brain (most notably within the amygdala) shows increased activity with decreased recovery in response to negative stimuli – as in Lily Tomlin. Sesame Street Said of anger, it's “bad weather in the mind.”

Endocrinology can also be essential.

The HPA axis—the feedback system within the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands—is affected and results primarily from the dysregulation of stress hormones, and is associated downstream with many negative health outcomes. Is. Oxytocin (the “social hormone”) appears to have decreased function. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of the abundant background facilitators of neuronal plasticity and neural health, is decreased. And allopregnanolone, a very important health-positive neurosteroid within the brain, can also be reduced.

If that song, and all of the health effects of loneliness (from cardio to neuro to hormonal), hit closer to home, what can an individual do?

Understand that folks are a medication.

Sigmund Freud, in a chapter on his anxiety Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, tells a stupendous story a few young boy who's afraid of the dark, except when his aunt talks to him. The boy said it gets lighter when someone speaks.

So, persons are anxiety relievers. And people take antidepressants in addition to blood pressure lowers (mostly). People, typically, are nice to you. So, find ways to be around and be with people. Let people accompany you in your journey through life.

The ways to do that are more common than you may think.

  • People from afar: Visit the library's reading room to read papers and soak up the gang.
  • People nearby: Volunteer at a hospital, or an area food bank, or some other organization that needs help.
  • Engaged People: Join a worship group; Take up a hobby which you could share with others, reminiscent of a sport, or a game club (chess, mahjong, cards, scrabble).
  • Even more busy people: renew old friendships which will have withered on the vine; You'd be surprised what a difference a daily cup of tea or coffee with an old friend could make. AARP found that having a single supportive relationship reduced perceived loneliness (and, by implication, the impact on health) from 76 percent for those with none to 36 percent.
  • If you are feeling self-conscious (Mark Twain said, “The worst loneliness is not being comfortable with yourself”), discover a therapist with whom you'll be able to think through your situation. .

People are complicated. People could be difficult. But it is barely inside the complex and joyful and sometimes difficult environment of human relationships that we will truly thrive. See you on the coffee shop.

Christopher Bullock, MD, MFA (1947–2018), was a psychiatrist, psychologist, and writer. He loved Gary Snyder's poetry. “All the nonsense that goes with being human” was a quote that influenced his life, his work, and his illness.