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Loneliness May Be Harmful To Our Daily Health

1 month ago

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Posted on Jun 18, 2024, 4 p.m.

A study recently published during Loneliness Awareness Week in the journal Health Psychology suggests that loneliness may be harmful to our daily health. For this study, researchers from Penn State College of Health and Human Development and the Center for Healthy Aging were centered on understanding the subtleties of loneliness and how variations in daily feelings of loneliness may affect both our long-term and short-term well-being. 

The U.S. Surgeon General's statement on loneliness 

Findings from this study add more weight in support of the statement made by the U.S. Surgeon General regarding the devastating impacts of loneliness and isolation on physical health in America, in which he called it a public health crisis. The researchers hope this work brings more attention to different experiences of loneliness and how our health is affected.

According to the Surgeon General, the long-term health consequences of loneliness and insufficient social connection include but are not limited to a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia in older adults. Additionally, those who are frequently lonely are more likely to develop depression and other mental health challenges.

This study

This study published in Health Psychology, focused on loneliness in midlife, and the data represents 1,538 participants between the ages of 35 and 65 years old from the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE), which is one of the studies in the MacArthur Foundation Survey of Midlife in the United States. 

In this study, according to the researchers, loneliness can lead to a range of negative health symptoms for people even if they typically don’t identify as experiencing loneliness. Those experiencing more temporary feelings of loneliness of those with a lot of variability in their feelings of loneliness are likely to have daily health issues including but not limited to headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

Participants underwent interviews to assess daily stress and mood for eight consecutive days in which they described any stressful and/or positive situations they encountered and their feelings for each day, including whether they felt lonely and how often. The participants were also asked if they had physical symptoms that day, including general fatigue or headaches. These assessments were performed twice, 10 years apart.

What they found

The data analysis revealed that when the participants felt less lonely on average as well as when the person felt less lonely than their average, they experienced fewer and less severe physical health symptoms. Additionally, those who were more stable in loneliness across the eight days also had less severe physical health symptoms. 

"These findings suggest that day-to-day dynamics of loneliness may be crucial in understanding and addressing the health effects of loneliness," Almeida said. "Increasing feelings of social connection even for one day could result in fewer health symptoms on that day. Such a daily focus offers a manageable and hopeful micro-intervention for individuals living with loneliness."

Variable dynamics

"A lot of research is focused on loneliness being a binary trait -- either you're lonely or you're not. But based on our own anecdotal lives, we know that's not the case. Some days are worse than others -- even some hours," said Dakota Witzel, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Healthy Aging and the lead author of the paper, "If we can understand variations in daily loneliness, we can begin to understand how it affects our daily and long-term health."

It may be a good idea to pay closer attention to daily and more temporary feelings of loneliness. While sustained loneliness can contribute to determinantal long-term effects such as those identified by the Surgeon General, shorter and more variable feelings of loneliness can produce negative shorter-term health symptoms. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Content may be edited for style and length.

References/Sources/Materials provided by:

T.W. at WHN

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0001377

https://www.psu.edu/news/health-and-human-development/story/short-term-loneliness-associated-physical-health-problems/

https://www.psu.edu/

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0001377

https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/03/new-surgeon-general-advisory-raises-alarm-about-devastating-impact-epidemic-loneliness-isolation-united-states.html

surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf (hhs.gov)

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