Loneliness is practically an epidemic and legitimate consequences are associated. Everyone feels lonely at one time or another but if it’s an ongoing theme it’s important understand the core issues around your isolation; how you view yourself and others. A felt sense of connection to others is a critical component of a person’s emotional, relational and physical health.
Studies show that a sense of rejection or isolation disrupts not only will power and perseverance, but also key cellular processes. Chronic loneliness belongs among health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or lack of exercise.
“Loneliness not only alters behavior, but loneliness is related to greater resistance to blood flow through your cardiovascular system,” says social neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo. “Loneliness leads to higher rises in morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol, altered gene expression in immune cells, poorer immune function, higher blood pressure and an increased level of depression.”
Technology has been used to substantiate via brain scans and other advanced scientific techniques to document the roles of loneliness and social connection as central regulatory mechanisms in human physiology and behavior.
“There are three core dimensions to feeling lonely—intimate isolation, which comes from not having anyone in your life you feel affirms who you are; relational isolation, which comes from not having face-to-face contacts that are rewarding; and collective isolation, which comes from not feeling that you’re part of a group or collective beyond individual existence,” he said.
Loneliness is complicated. Moving to a new community or losing an intimate partner can trigger loneliness but also the overall subjective experience of isolation. And today’s culture is not always conducive to promoting strong social bonds. Loneliness within a couple can also be particularly painful, leading to relationship disconnection.
The problem of social isolation will likely grow as conventional societal structures fade, such as household sizes decreasing. Sociologists also have found that people report significantly fewer close friends and confidants than those a generation ago.
Loneliness creates a feedback loop that reinforces social anxiety, fear and other negative feelings. If you are struggling chronic loneliness, it’s important you take baby steps towards understanding the roots and make changes as possible. If you feel stuck, consider seeking therapy for some assisted exploration, possibly including family of origin work.1