How does loneliness affect our health?
Social isolation can harm our health. (Getty Images)
Everyone felt lonely at some point in their lives.
Britain has been banned since March 23 during the outbreak of the coronavirus. The restrictions have only recently been relaxed to allow mixing of no more than six people outdoors.
The pandemic has probably stretched the NHS and threatened the global economy like never before.
Read More: How to recognize someone is lonely and what to do to help
However, an unexpected side effect of the virus may be the severe social isolation that so many have experienced.
At best, there are 1.2 million chronically lonely elderly people in the UK, 500,000 walk five or six days without speaking to anyone.
While loneliness undoubtedly leaves us in the garbage dumps, the impact on our physical well-being should not be underestimated.
Lonely people have "less motivation to take care of themselves".
In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, it was suspected that lonely people could develop more serious complications.
Studies show that healthy people who spend little time with others are more likely to develop symptoms when they catch a cold than those who are more sociable.
Research has also shown that lonely people who are exposed to cold viruses in a laboratory and then put in quarantine are more likely to contract the infection.
Read More: Singing in a choir can help fight loneliness
"[Studies] were not done for [the] coronavirus, but [the results] would likely be the same," said Dr. Ruth Hackett from King's College London previously told Yahoo UK.
"[It's a] very specific concern".
In contrast to loneliness, positive emotions should strengthen the immune response.
This has been observed in extroverts, although they may be exposed to more people who may be contagious.
According to scientists at Rice University in Houston, loneliness is said to “affect aspects of the immune system that are responsible for the production of inflammatory cytokines [immune-fighting proteins]”.
Overproduction of cytokines can “cause persistent symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection”.
The clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Orban fears that lonely people may not be motivated as officials ask us to continue to exercise physical health during the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"Loneliness can also have a negative impact on health and the ability to take care of yourself when you get sick," she told Yahoo UK earlier.
"For example, someone who experiences loneliness might feel like they have" nothing or nobody to live with, "which can reduce their motivation to take good care of themselves and survive their illness."
In addition to the corona virus, scientists at Bristol University recently found that lonely people start smoking more often, drink more cigarettes in a day, and are less able to quit smoking.
They wondered if the addictive nicotine "interferes with neurotransmitters like dopamine". The release of this feel good chemical can relieve the feeling of loneliness.
Perhaps surprisingly, a 2010 study found that loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Read more: The 92-year-old widower shows how he has overcome the loneliness of losing his wife
Scientists at the University Hospital in Essen also found that loneliness increases the risk of premature death.
After examining more than 4,000 people over the age of 13, they found that lack of social inclusion increased the risk of heart disease by 44% and the likelihood of death for any reason by 47%.
"We have known for some time that lonely or without contact with close friends and family can affect your physical health," said study author Dr. Janine Gronewold.
"We still don't understand why people who are socially isolated have such poor health outcomes, but this is obviously a worrying finding, especially in times of ongoing social distance."
Research has shown that lonely people find it more difficult to quit smoking. (Getty Images)
Brain scans differ in lonely people
While it sounds far-fetched, evidence even suggests that loneliness affects brain activity.
Stanford University scientists performed MRI scans on 50 volunteers while thinking about themselves, their friends, acquaintances and celebrities.
The results published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that thinking about someone from each category corresponded to a different pattern of activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain.
The closer the relationship is, the more similar is the pattern observed when thinking about yourself.
Brain patterns varied, however, in more lonely people, where the activities related to thinking about themselves were significantly different than in the other categories.
The scientists came to the conclusion that these people have a "more lonely" representation of their relationships.
"It's almost like having a particular constellation of neural activity that activates when you think of yourself and your friends. Much of the same constellation is recruited," said Meghan Meyer, assistant professor for the study author.
“However, when you are lonely, you activate a rather different constellation when you think of others than when you think of yourself.
"It's like your brain image of yourself is more separate from other people, which is in line with how lonely people say they feel."
Loneliness in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic
A study shows that loneliness can be just as harmful to health as obesity, reports Kristine Sorensen from KDKA.
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