November 18, 2020
There's no denying it – this year has been an isolated and lonely one. And as Covid cases reach all-time highs in many areas, many of us are facing more isolation in the weeks to come. While we may know that avoiding face-to-face time with friends and family is the right thing to do now, it still can take its toll on our wellbeing.
If you're feeling the weight of spending so much time alone, it's no surprise why.
Loneliness vs. Being Alone
It’s important to acknowledge that being alone isn’t necessarily a negative thing but feeling lonely or isolated can be.
Studies suggest that single people who live alone may actually have stronger social ties than their married counterparts. One survey found that single people who live alone were more likely than non-single people to spend a night out with friends, go to restaurants, and attend art classes.
Furthermore, being around people may not ease feelings of loneliness or isolation. A new parent, for example, may feel cut off from the outside world and experience feelings of isolation.
So, while spending time alone can be a great way to recharge and check in with yourself, prolonged feelings of loneliness or isolation may be harmful.
Loneliness and Mental and Brain Health
Unsurprisingly, loneliness is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety have both been linked to structural degeneration of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. So not only do these conditions affect mood, they can also affect the brain itself.
Chronic loneliness may also impact cognition, like the ability to concentrate, problem solve, and make decisions.
Research suggests that isolation could also change our brain chemistry. One mouse study found that isolation caused a neurochemical imbalance, which may impact the amygdala and hypothalamus, parts of the brain involved in emotion.
While it’s not common for most people to live in actual isolation, these findings could suggest a connection between feelings of isolation and mental and brain health.
Loneliness and Physical Health
Loneliness doesn’t only affect our mental wellbeing, though. It can cause an increase in cortisol, which can “impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation, and heart disease,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Studies have found that loneliness may also negatively affect sleep quality, raise cholesterol, and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Hope to Cope with Loneliness
If you’re struggling with loneliness, there are things you can do to help feel more connected.
Become aware of your feelings. If you notice that you’re feeling lonely more often than not, are more irritable or aggressive, or are turning to drugs or alcohol more often, it may be time to make some intentional changes.
Reach out. It can be easy to feel like friends and family aren’t reaching out because they don’t want you around, but this likely isn’t the case. People frequently get stuck in their routines but would be more than happy to spend some quality time with you. Try reaching out to a few friends for a Zoom chat or a socially-distant walk.
Get involved. Try signing up for an online class. There will likely be some type of group discussion or community involved where you can discuss topics or ideas with people. Bonus points: you already know they have some of the same interests as you if they're in the same class!
Consider a social media break. Social media can be a great way to stay connected, but it can also trigger unhealthy comparisons, jealousy, and doom scrolling. Try taking a few days or a week off and see if your mood improves.
Give therapy a try. Because loneliness is often tied to anxiety or depression, therapy can be a great strategy for coping with multiple issues. They’ll be able to offer coping strategies, objective insight, and helpful tools specific to your concerns.
While Neuropeak Pro makes no claims that it can diagnose, treat, assess, or cure any conditions, including anxiety or depression, our programs may help improve mood and stress. Give us a call at 800.600.4096 to learn more.
Cleveland Clinic. (2018, February, 23). “What Happens in Your Body When You’re Lonely?” Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-in-your-body-when-youre-lonely/
Brueck, Hilary. (2018, July 3). “We're learning more about how social isolation damages your brain and body — here are the biggest effects.” Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/why-loneliness-bad-brain-body-what-to-do-2018-5
Donovan, Nancy J, et al. “Loneliness, Depression and Cognitive Function in Older U.S. Adults.” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27162047.
Klinednberg, Eric. (2012, February 4). “One’s a Crowd.” Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/opinion/sunday/living-alone-means-being-social.html
Raypole, Crystal. (2019, June 25). “Is Chronic Loneliness Real?” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/chronic-loneliness
Robinson, Sarita. (2019, February 3). “Isolation Has Profound Effects on The Human Body and Brain. Here’s What Happens.” Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/isolation-has-profound-effects-on-the-human-body-and-brain-here-s-what-happens