Studies completed at Ohio State University University at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research sought to better understand how loneliness affects physical health. Research conducted in the past has shown a clear link between loneliness and a variety of health conditions including depression, heart disease, anxiety and premature death. Lisa Jaremka, a post-doctoral fellow, measured loneliness using the UCLA loneliness scale. She found that loneliness acts like a chronic physical stressor. For those suffering with the herpes virus and scored higher on the loneliness scale were more likely to have a reactivation of their symptoms and to have more general inflammation throughout their bodies. Further, people who scored higher on the loneliness scale also reported more pain, depression and fatigue than their less lonely counterparts. Overall, these findings suggest loneliness can have negative effects by compromising the immune system. However, not everyone who is alone is lonely. The experience of loneliness is subjective. While one person may feel comfortable with being relatively alone, another person may experience significant loneliness in the same situation. What do you do if you are experiencing loneliness? Getting connected socially can help, for instance, by joining a club or organization or by volunteering. If meeting new people makes you anxious, seeking help to improve social skills may also prove beneficial.
Holly O. Houston, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist