The Implications of Loneliness on Human Health

The Implications of Loneliness on Human Health

by
Elyana Helvira (i3L Biomedicine Student)

Most people do a lot of physical things, such as consuming supplements, doing exercises regularly, eating healthy food, and doing other physical activity, to keep healthy. However, they are not aware of their emotions which can affect their physical health. Research by Hawkley and Cacioppo (2010) shows that 80% of kids under 18 years old and 40% of those over 65 years of age in several countries experienced loneliness as an emotion that influences physical health. Additionally, this percentage is increasing due to the pandemic since most people do self-quarantine. Even though loneliness is a common emotion (Tiwari, 2013), it should be avoided as it will increase mortality (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010).

 

According to the American Psychological Association (2020), emotion is a complex reaction pattern that involves experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements. Humans have positive and negative emotions. The positive one, such as joy, love, and others, is an emotion that will give benefits such as happiness and healthiness for humans (Fredrickson, 2001). Meanwhile, negative emotions like sadness, hate, anger (“Negative Emotion,” 2020), and loneliness (Kearns & Creaven, 2017), will cause a bad impact on human health both physically and mentally. Loneliness is a feeling when humans think they lack social relationships which makes them require social contact and relationships (Peplau & Perlman, 1982). This is not the same as literally being alone. Some people still feel lonely although they are surrounded by people and have a supposedly active social life (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010).

 

Even though loneliness is an emotion, it can cause another emotion to emerge by increasing fear, stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010). 

Therefore, depression can occur as the mental effect of loneliness since those are highly connected (Shaver et al., 1991). People who get depression can end up with suicidal behavior since they might not have enough support from other people to live longer (Tiwari, 2013). Therefore, loneliness is highly associated with a lack of social support (Dykstra & Grieveld, 2004). Loneliness and a lack of social support have been shown to influence mood (Friedman et al., 2005) and survival (Kravdal, 2001). This can cause cancer patients’ condition to worsen since loneliness occurs around a year after diagnosis because a diagnosis of chronic illness is a stressful event that is strongly related to an increase in misery (Rokach, 2003), while they are supposed to survive (Avci & Kumcagiz, 2011).

 

A variety of health problems occur due to the risk factor of loneliness, such as high blood pressure and abnormal white blood cell ratios in the circulation (Cole, 2008). According to Valtorta et al. (2017), loneliness has been viewed as a danger factor for coronary heart disease and stroke, which is related to vascular dementia (Justin et al., 2013). In addition, since depression has been linked to a higher risk of dementia (Bennett & Thomas, 2014), it is closely related to loneliness (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009). On the other hand, even though some causes of health problems have nothing to do with loneliness such as cancer (Deckx, 2014), loneliness can occur to humans who got diagnosed with cancer.

 

Cortisol is a variety of steroid hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands and derived from cholesterol (Thau et al., 2019). 

It was regulated by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland, which can help with metabolic regulation, inflammation reduction, blood pressure control, and other benefits (“Cortisol,” 2018). According to Doane and Adam (2009), loneliness indicates the increasing cortisol arousing response the next morning. If this occurs continuously, the human body will produce an uncontrolled amount of cortisol and bring bad effects to the body. The condition when the body produces too much cortisol for an extended length of time is Cushing syndrome (Information et al., 2018). When the higher levels of cortisol are released, the blood pressure will be higher.

 

Human habits can be affected by loneliness due to behavioral response as the real expression of emotion (“The Science of Emotion: Exploring The Basics of Emotional Psychology,” 2019). An unhealthy lifestyle might result in irregular meal timing, unbalanced rest time as well as sleep problems, less physical activity, and so on (Tiwari, 2013). 

According to Lim et al. (2012), an irregular eating pattern can cause digestive problems. 

Not only the pattern but also the composition of the food itself will not be noticed by them which might bring adverse effects to the health and provide insufficient nutrients. Additionally, they prefer to do activities individually which is likely to be less physical. Whereas, by doing physical activity they can increase blood circulation, distribute nutrients to the joints, and more, while being physically inactive can lead to bone loss, or called osteoporosis (“Why Staying Active is Key to Healthy Bones and Joints”, 2020). In addition, they will not sleep properly due to sleep problems, such as insomnia and sleep fragmentation (Kurina, 2011). Sleep time also will be reduced as they are not aware of their rest time, which can bring to high risk of hypertension and coronary artery calcification (Hawkley & Cacioppo, 2010), and lead to diminished immunity (Pressman et al., 2005).

 

Everyone can experience loneliness no matter how old they are. Moreover, there are a lot of disadvantages to being lonely. This also can affect health problems both physically and mentally. Loneliness can uncontrollably increase the amount of cortisol which causes some diseases to occur. In addition, loneliness can cause bad human habits which will eventually affect physical health. Therefore, loneliness should be avoided as this can lead to morbidity as well as mortality.

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