Long before COVID-19 was on the tip of everybody’s tongue and social distancing became the directive du jour, nearly half of Americans reported feeling lonely to some degree.
It’s something Practical Health Today founder Andy Snyder has paid close attention to.
As he’s written, “It’s no secret our culture is fighting a loneliness crisis. Despite technology that links us together like never before, folks are more disconnected from their friends, family and colleagues than ever.”
And now, thanks to the coronavirus, it’s taken a turn for the worse…
A “COVID Impact Survey” found that nearly two-thirds of Americans feel lonely.
This is a devastating statistic given how much loneliness can impact our lives and our health.
It’s another stark reminder of the far-reaching – and long-lasting – harm this crisis can have.
A Pack a Day
Loneliness and social isolation have been found to increase the risk of dying early by as much as 50%. (And this is a pre-pandemic figure.)
It’s so serious that researchers have likened feeling lonely to smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes per day.
Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, went so far as to say that loneliness is even more dangerous than obesity.
And we’re not just talking about loneliness leading to depression. Loneliness has a physical impact as well…
Undoing the Tolls of Isolation
Researchers from the University of Chicago have found that being isolated triggers the release of stress hormones in the brain.
That means many of us operating under stay-at-home orders have had stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline pumping through our bodies virtually nonstop.
When these are at elevated levels for prolonged periods, they wreak havoc on the bodies. Stress has been known to lead to:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Increased heart rate
- Digestive issues
- Back pain
- Weakened immune system
The good news (and bad news, right now) is that one of the easiest ways to reduce stress hormone levels is to socialize.
But now it takes some creativity. Socially distant walks and meetups… telephone and video calls… letter writing… These are all ways to maintain our relationships and connections.
This has been a shared experience for much of the world.
Because so many of us are in a prolonged state of loneliness and stress, it’s easier to talk about what’s going on with friends and loved ones… because we’ve all been experiencing it to some degree.
And studies have shown that interactions and conversations with someone who can understand and relate to your experience leaves a marked improvement on stress levels.
As an added bonus, research out of Southern Methodist University found that talking to others about our experiences is actually good for our immune system. Because all of those pent-up negative feelings can be taxing on the brain and make us more susceptible to becoming sick. And the effects on the immune system can be long-lasting.
The study found that participants who communicated with others had a heightened immune response for up to six weeks. That’s right, just sharing your experience with others is directly associated with improvements in immune function and physical health.
So if there’s anything I hope we’ve learned from this drawn-out period of temporary isolation, it’s that we’re better off being around others…
Which makes sense since we’re inherently social creatures. But sometimes it takes a little seclusion to remind us that’s the case.
Has the quarantine left you feeling lonely? Have you found ways to combat it? Let us know your thoughts here.