Could Loneliness Shorten Your Life?

Everyone needs a night to themselves once in a while, but if your consistent solitary status isn’t by choice, you may want to find a way to recharge your social life.

According to a study by Brigham Young University, both loneliness and social isolation increases the risk for early mortality. The study also points to a recent report in which researchers predict that unless action is taken, loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030.

Does that mean that binge watching Netflix over the weekend will shave years from your life? Not necessarily.

Jeff Vogel, MA, LPCC, Clinical Director of ProMedica Physicians Behavioral Health, stresses the importance of social interaction to stay happy and healthy, as well as a person’s perception of their alone time.

“Human beings are social beings. We need social interaction to be healthy,” says Vogel.

But alone time is healthy, too. Vogel makes this distinction: “It depends on how you interpret alone time. Certainly a person being by themselves can be healthy. Many people enjoy alone time; they schedule it. It can be quite positive. The opposite end of that is someone who is isolated because they had a loss, a break up, or feel rejected by family. The brain interprets that isolation in a different way.”

Vogel continues, “If we are isolated and not happy about it, then we aren’t getting support and time to be cheered up by another person. Being denied time with other people can lead to depressed moods, which can lead to further negative thinking and isolation. Unfortunately, people may get stuck in this negative cycle.”

If you feel like your social interaction is lacking, Vogel recommends reaching out to family and friends. But if that’s not an option, just being out in a social setting can do the trick. “Schedule time to take a walk or be outside. Go to the store or a restaurant. You may have the chance to run into someone and strike up conversation.”

Older adults are can be susceptible to loneliness, too. Vogel recommends getting involved in a senior center, you can be around and converse with people your own age and just have fun.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to a healthy balance. “It’s important to take time to enjoy peace and quiet and to unwind from stressors in our day,” says Vogel. “But we also need time to get support from others and enjoy a laugh.”