New research has suggested that being lonely may be worse for your health than being obese – with those who experience ‘chronic loneliness’ having a 14% increased risk of early death. Despite often being associated with old age, loneliness is also common amongst younger adults.
One explanation for the negative effects of loneliness on health is that, like many other mental health problems, loneliness is linked with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and is also associated with other health risk factors such as weight gain and poor immunity. Although many people enjoy spending time alone, loneliness is different to beneficial ‘me-time’ in that it can lead to low self-esteem and depression. Recognising the difference is important. Even if you’re regularly surrounded by others, you may still feel lonely if you don’t have relationships that you value.
What to do if you feel lonely
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. But if it’s something that’s affecting you on a regular basis think about trying some of the following:
- Ask yourself what you’d like to do more of and who with. Don’t be scared of making the first move and asking others to do something with you – the chances are they’ll agree.
- Take care of yourself and your health – eating well or taking some gentle exercise will naturally boost your mood and leave you feeling happier when you are in your own company. It will also boost your confidence to go out and meet new people.
- Find out what’s going on in your local area – offering your skills as a volunteer or signing up for a new class or group activity is the perfect way to interact with others. Remember, there are always other people in a similar boat to you.