By Michael Arangua
Updated December 12, 2018
Reviewer Laura Angers
There are so many songs out there about loneliness, from "Killing Loneliness" by HIM to "Hit Me Baby (One More Time" by Britney Spears which, at first, doesn't sound like it's about loneliness until you get to the chorus. ("My loneliness is killing me…") But was Britney on to something? Can you die from loneliness? The short answer is yes, you can. Loneliness is as dangerous for your health as is smoking.
How Loneliness Can Be Dangerous
Research has shown that people are dying of loneliness. As it turns out, as much as other people may drive us crazy sometimes, social isolation is as detrimental to our health as is smoking, being overweight, and being an alcoholic. So, if want to follow the advice of HIM, "Killing Loneliness" is a pretty good idea.
People who have an empty social calendar and who ignore those invites to go out and potentially have a good time are putting their lives in danger. This may seem like a given, but it's pretty monumental because people don't like to admit they are lonely. The subject is rarely talked about, but it is a deep cause for concern.
One of the major problems with loneliness is the way we react to depression. We may think we are more comfortable skipping a social outing, but what do we often do instead? Binge shows on Netflix while stuffing our mouths with fatty foods and sugary beverages? It would be much healthier to meet up with our friends for a game of pool, not to mention much more active.
The Con Of Social Media
Because we can connect to anyone anywhere and at any time, we are continuously lulled into a false sense of security by believing that we are truly connecting with others when, in fact, we are not. The truth is that we are lonelier than we have ever been, which is making us sicker and more selfish than we have ever been - and we have social media to thank.
You can spend hours chatting with someone over Messenger, but what happens when you need a warm hug or a hand to hold? The endorphins that you can experience from such contact are non-existent over the cold, unfeeling touch of a keyboard.
As comforting as it can be to back out of a social commitment, people do, in fact, need other people to survive. And while we may all feel a sense of loneliness from time to time, it is the chronic, prolonged loneliness that truly does us in. Being lonely can lead to anxiety and depression, and all of those unsavory side effects and manifestations that go along with those conditions.
The Physical Effects Of Loneliness
Studies have shown that people who are chronically lonely have weaker immune systems and a decreased quality of sleep. The weaker immune system thing is rather interesting and makes sense. Those who spend a majority of their time alone are not exposed to the germs and bacteria that being around other people would expose them to. As a result, their immune systems are just as compromised as those of young children who have not yet been exposed to much of the world, and so have not built up a solid defense against it.
As for the decreased quality of sleep, this is because those who live alone are in charge of keeping themselves safe, so every little noise in the house wakes them up. Over time, a decreased quality of sleep can lead to a host of health problems, including those that can ultimately cause heart attacks and strokes.
Some studies have also shown that chronic loneliness can cause us to be more vulnerable to conditions like dementia, depression, and schizophrenia. And, as we are already aware, these conditions, particularly depression, can lead to suicidal thoughts. Of course, just because you are lonely does not mean you are also suicidal. However, almost everyone who flirts with the idea of suicide, when not a side effect of some medication, tends to also suffer from loneliness.
What is ironic about our bodies breaking down is that the sicker we get, the more we need others to care for us. Perhaps we can beat such a situation to the punch by having people around us in the first place, thereby negating the need for people to be around us later on, and when we may not be in the best condition to start making friends.
Being Lonely When Surrounded By People
Simply not being alone is not always the answer to loneliness. People can feel lonely - perhaps even lonelier - when in a large crowd, or when they live in a house with several family members. The key to staving off loneliness is to spend time with people with whom you form a connection or bond, those people who share your interests.
If there's something that you're passionate about, like art or music, but no one else around you is, then this can lead to loneliness because you may feel like you have no one to talk to, no one to share this cool thing with. You can choose to discuss your interests with those around you anyway, but no connections will be made because they simply aren't as interested in the same things that you are.
Loneliness And The Elderly
Loneliness is especially dangerous for the elderly, and it is also particularly popular the older the age group. For instance, back in 2010, the AARP published a survey in which one out of three adults over the age of 45 years old reported that they had been suffering from chronic loneliness. Only ten years prior, that number was much less, with one in five people in that age group admitting to chronic loneliness.
What's worse is that certain issues in particular that are difficult when we are younger tend to be much more difficult when we're older. For instance, elderly LGBT folks are more likely to suffer from loneliness, as are those who are geographically isolated from their peers.
As for the first, elderly LGBT people are less likely to have children. They are also more likely to live alone due to discrimination and being estranged from their families. The upside is that as tolerance increases, more people are coming out, and so more social groups are being created and dedicated to helping elderly LGBT folks get the support they need.
As for the latter, it's no secret that it's harder to get around the older you get. When it becomes more difficult or practically impossible to go on long road trips or take a lengthy plane flight, seniors tend to stay put, which leads to their reduction in spending time with those they care about. Not being able to visit their children or grandchildren can undoubtedly lead to an increase in loneliness.
In addition to the elderly, those who are otherwise "different" tend to be the loneliest: those who are regularly bullied, or those who suffer in poverty. Women also tend to be lonelier than men, and blacks tend to be lonelier than whites. Those who received a better education tend to be less lonely than those who did not, and those who have jobs tend to be less lonely than those who are unemployed or retired.
How To Make Friends
If you're unsure how to go about forming new connections with people who share your interests, there are some ways in which to try. A great way of connecting with others is via the Meetup app or website. On Meetup, you can search for your particular interests, and then try to find others who share those interests in your local area.
If you can't find a meetup for your particular interest, you can create your group. Simply pick a public meeting place, and then organize the weekly or monthly meetings as you see fit. There's a nominal monthly fee to keep your Meetup going, but when you compare it to the alternative, the fee is insignificant when your mental and physical health is at stake.
Failing that, you can also use your own social media preferences to seek out local meetup groups. But make sure these groups meet in person, else you are simply going back to your cocoon of cold emptiness of conversing over a computer screen, as opposed to engaging in legitimate, face-to-face conversation over a cold beer or a hot cup of coffee and a scone.
Do you suffer from chronic loneliness and are unsure of how to cope? Do you find yourself constantly struggling with the idea of going out vs. staying in, despite knowing that the former is better for you than the latter? You may want to consider seeking professional help from one of our licensed counselors who can guide you on what your next steps should be to live a more healthy and positive life.