Is loneliness lethal?

Is loneliness lethal?

Humans are hard-wired for connectedness. Sharing experiences, passions and even a few hardships together is what we need to feel balanced and happy.

But sometimes social interaction can become uncomfortable, and retreating to isolation can feel like a safe space. However, too much alone time can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.

In an advisory report, U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy warns we’re in a loneliness epidemic, and society’s lack of social connection will have dire implications on our collective health and well-being. According to the report, about half of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced loneliness. Those who experience social withdrawal increase their risk of premature death by 30 percent. They also are at an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

“We need each other,” says Julie Offutt, psychotherapist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, Wis. “Symptoms of anxiety and depression are more prevalent in those with a severe lack of social interaction, and the risk of developing dementia is greater.”

Self-care may help fight off loneliness, but Offutt cautions it could be a distraction that can potentially lead to social isolation.

“It’s important to carve out time for self-care. It’s just as important to ensure you’re not detaching yourself from others and be intentional about making social connections as part of your wellness regimen. Isolation, depression and anxiety are inextricably linked and cause us to avoid interaction with others,” Offutt says.

Offutt recommends the following tips to help offset feelings of being alone and improve your socializing skills:

1. Follow the 15-minute rule. Spend 15 minutes each day connecting with someone. Whether you’re in-person, video chatting or talking on the phone, it’s hard to feel lonely when you’re interacting with others.

2. Volunteer. Do a good deed. Being of service not only helps others and gets you socializing, it’s also good for your mental health, too. It can reduce stress, combat depression and keep you mentally stimulated.

3. Exercise. Discover the art of yoga with friends, grab a buddy and meander around the neighborhood or bike to work with a co-worker to do some physical activity. You feel less separated from the world when you’re experiencing it.

4. Connect with people from your past. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with old friends than it is to make new ones. Reach out to an old roommate, former classmate or a relocated loved one to reconnect.

Digging yourself out of solitude is a journey. Offutt suggests taking it day by day and moment by moment. “Start by creating a plan. Will you invite a loved one to lunch, catch up with an old friend, strike up a conversation with a neighbor or ask a co-worker out for coffee? Designing ideas to use when you’re feeling lonely is key to your healing journey.”

If you’re struggling with social isolation, talking to a doctor can help.

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About the Author

Amber Thompson
Amber Thompson

Amber Thompson is a marketing graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In her free time, Amber enjoys passion-filled projects including blogging and photography. Amber loves spending her free time reading journalistic columns, listening to motivational podcasts and discovering creative recipes to get her young son to eat his vegetables.