We all fell lonely sometimes. In fact, in Europe alone 30 million people suffer from frequent loneliness. While in the US 3 out of 5 Americans are lonely. In the age where every person is considered the world with just a few clicks, loneliness is raging in plain sight. Loneliness is not necessarily caused by being alone one might be surrounded by friends and family and still feel lonely. This feeling isn't just in our heads, it can also lead to real physiological changes deep within our bodies. Loneliness has a profound effect on our well-being. It affects our emotions through brain cells that are responsible for producing that happiness signals dopamine and serotonin.
Studies on animals show that the brain of socially isolated mice motivated them to seek interactions. This means that neuronal connections, which define our thoughts and feelings, change after prolonged loneliness. Loneliness is a mechanism just like hunger. Usually, the brain uses it to trigger us Interact with others. Prolonged loneliness, however, can lead to anxiety, depression and stress. Along with emotions, loneliness also affects how we think. It can reduce cognitive performance and accelerate cognitive decline. At the same time it impairs our ability to learn. Loneliness also affects our self-control and directs our attention to "bad" stimuli from around, which can negatively affect the mood.
Instead of focusing on the positive, loneliness may direct our attention to focus on the negative. It's no secret that our surroundings affect our health. After prolonged fights with friends, break-ups or moving to a new place we may experience sickness for some time. One explanation to this phenomenon comes from the effects that loneliness exerts in our immune system. Recent research shows that loneliness can lead to long-term "fight-or-flight"stress signaling, which negatively affects the way our immune system functions. In other words people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don't.
Another reason for this comes loneliness can influence our genetics switch genes on and off depending on certain situations. Loneliness can affect this process, leading to higher risk of inflammatory diseases. Generally, inflammation is good as it's the body's way to react to an irritant. Prolonged inflammation, on the other hand, can exhaust the immune system and lead to diseases. The direct link between loneliness is still being investigated. We are complex beings who experience a wide range of emotions as a response to being lonely. It is possible that one of those emotions affects our immune system rather than loneliness itself. Have you ever engulfed a whole pack of ice-cream after feeling lonely?
Experiments on mice show that we aren't that unique in wanting to eat the sadness away. Social isolation leads to obesity, followed by type 2 diabetes in lonely mice. /Even when it comes to receiving cancer treatment, loneliness was shown to increase cancer mortality which is cancer patients are advised to receive family support at all times to help them recover. Cognitive effects of loneliness can range between dementia, Alzheimer's disease, depressions and anxiety. Collectively, these factors then affect the life expectancy of a person. Loneliness does not always come from luck of social contacts.
It is often described perceived social isolation with a term meaning that the person might not necessarily be alone, but feel such a way. This is often related to genetics, upbringing, environment, personal social needs and cultural norms. Evolutionary, humans have needed each other to survive and reproduce, which allowed them to carry their DNA to future generations. That could explain our brain's intense craving towards social connections. It might be using physical pain to motivated us to reduce loneliness.
It is possible to distract yourself from loneliness be engaging in activities that will make you happy. Purse your interested and hobbies and keep yourself busy. This way your brain will be preoccupied with something else rather than planting negative thoughts in your head.