It is said that happiness is a state of mind, but it turns out that loneliness isn’t. According to experts, loneliness is closely tied to the body as well as to the psyche.
While many characterize loneliness as a mental or emotional experience, isolation can have a significant impact on our physical state. This in turn can affect our mental state in a type of negative cycle.
Here are some of the ways loneliness can affect the body in very real ways:
- Higher cortisol levels. Loneliness can raise the stress hormone cortisol in our systems, which can lead to impaired cognitive performance and a compromised immune system, says Dr. Amy Sullivan of the Cleveland Clinic.
- Shortened lifespan. Isolation and loneliness can have the same effect on a person’s lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
- Reduced oxytocin levels. The hormone oxytocin is released during hugging and touching and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is linked to social bonding, generosity and forming trust between people. Reduced human connection means reduced oxytocin levels.
- Increased inflammation. According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, people who are more socially isolated and lonely show increased chronic inflammation, which is linked to a variety of chronic diseases.
If you feel socially isolated or lonely, you’re not the only one. Around 50 percent of American adults report feeling lonely—an experience that affects the body just as much as the mind.