Robin Strongin

A friend of mine reached out not to long ago and asked if we could meet for coffee.  She had something she wanted to talk to me about and I was intrigued.

It had been some time since we had seen each other so we spent a bit of time catching up on friends and family.  Of course most of that time was focused on our kids–how proud we are of them, how fortunate we are to have great relationships with them, and how quiet it is at home now that they are out of the house.

As we made our way from coffee to food (hers was the healthy meal choice, mine, not so much) she shared that she had been thinking about, and doing some research on, loneliness–and it’s affect on health.  Especially for women.

We discussed the many dimensions of loneliness–living in isolation (geographically speaking and feeling isolated in a crowded urban environment); empty-nest syndrome; aging and the loss of friends; relationships gone bad.

All of this at a time when, ironically, more and more of us are more and more connected through technology.  Or are we?

We started to talk about how prevalent loneliness is, especially for women–and the remarkable impact it has on health–emotional and physical health.

Ever the analyst, my friend came bearing statistics and articles with headlines that screamed: Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness, How Loneliness Wears on the Body, The Dangers of Loneliness, and Loneliness Has the Same Risk as Smoking for Heart Disease.

She wondered if there was something Disruptive Women could do.

We will be exploring this issue in greater depth over the next few months.  In the meantime, if you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section.  If you have data, research, personal stories (please be sure all permissions to share are in accordance with any and all legal and regulatory requirements), we would love to hear from you.


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3 Responses to “Loneliness and its Impact on Health: Share Your Story”

  1. Glenna Crooks Says:

    Great topic and lots of emerging data: to loneliness being worse for health than heart disease, add obesity and alcoholism. This would make a great series.

    A ‘lonely not knowing who to call when…’ is something we should all think about. I suspect we have more support than we know, it’s just ‘hiding in plain sight’ within our networks.

  2. Glenna Crooks Says:

    This from my upcoming book: The Network Sage: Unleashing Your Network Superpower:

    Good connections are good for your health, for example. They make you more resilient in stressful times, help you feel happy and even ease physical pain. Making a good connection with someone releases the hormone oxytocin which reduces anxiety. This happens not only when others do something good for you, but also when you do something good for others which may be why, of all the exercises tested by educator and positive-psychology author Martin Seligman, doing a kindness for another produced the most reliable increase in a person’s own well-being. Good connections with family and friends will help you as you age, especially if you need help to maintain your home so that you can remain there more independently, healthy and injury-free.

    As you might expect, bad connections have negative health consequences. People in poor-quality marriages are more likely to suffer from hypertension and have lower rates of survival following a heart attack. Even young people (between the ages of 18-55) who have heart attacks have poorer outcomes when they lack good social support. Being disconnected from others is bad for your health as well, one of the reasons that the hypermobility of those who travel extensively for a living can result in serious long-term effects, including a breakdown in health and in the family and social relationships that support good health.

    Worse than work-related disconnection is being shunned by others altogether. If you feel lonely, rejected, or neglected by family or friends – and according to John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, 26% of Americans do – those are not only painful feelings, they are risk factors for disease. If you are an older person in the U.S. today, as shown by a University of California-San Francisco study, you may be among the 43% of seniors who feel lonely.

    Regardless of your age, however, rates of loneliness are higher today than in the 1970s when, as Cacioppo notes, they were 11%. This is important because of a variety of medical studies have shown that loneliness and lack of social connections is more harmful to your health than smoking, obesity, or alcoholism. It increases infections, depression and cognitive decline. It interferes with sleep and increases blood pressure and stress hormones. It has an impact at a cellular level, changing gene expression in immune cells. It is a predictor of depression, chronic illness and shorter lifespan.

    If you’ve ever experienced social pain – from loneliness or rejection, for example – recent neuroscience studies have shown it not only feels like real pain, it is real pain and travels along the same neural pathways as physical pain. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a rhyme, not a truth. Social isolation, rejection and loneliness hurt.

  3. DW Staff Says:

    Thanks for sharing Glenna.

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