The Health Risks of Loneliness

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Feeling isolated, left out, and without a sense of belonging or connection to anyone around you — in other words, grappling with loneliness — can be a grim experience.

Science suggests these pangs for companionship aren’t just uncomfortable. Chronic loneliness can have significant effects on our physical and mental health.

“What’s so powerful about loneliness is it affects everything — every aspect of health and well-being,” says Angelina Sutin, PhD, a professor of psychology at Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, who researches how personality and life events affect mental and physical outcomes. “This underscores the importance of social connection and being able to be part of a group.”

Loneliness is the emotional and cognitive discomfort or uneasiness of being or perceiving oneself to be alone — the distress we feel when our inherent needs for intimacy and connection aren’t met.

It can bubble up as either an objective or subjective state. You could be objectively alone and crave companionship, or you could be in a crowded room and still feel alone in the world, says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. For the past two decades, she’s been studying the protective effects of social relationships on health — and, in turn, the health risks associated with loneliness and isolation.

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