Although some people need more interactions than others, we are social creatures. If we are removed from a sense of community or we lack a sense of belonging, this can cause many health effects, and it is also a threat to public health, as outlined in an advisory from the Office of the US Surgeon General.
The advisories are reserved for “significant public health challenges” that require immediate awareness and action, according to the surgeon general’s office. Loneliness and social isolation have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic is also working to shift our attention to loneliness as a public health problem, according to the report, released earlier this month.
Persistent feelings of loneliness or social isolation can affect our mood and emotions and cause symptoms of anxiety and depression, and also increase our risk of other health conditions, including heart disease and dementia.
“Loneliness is more than a bad feeling — it harms individual and societal health,” wrote US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a letter opening the advisory. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.”
Mortality-wise, or how something contributes to the risk of death, loneliness has the same effect as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day and has a greater risk than obesity or physical inactivity, says said Murthy.
There are many factors that can contribute to a person being isolated from others or feeling persistently lonely – some of which are outlined in the advisory include the reduction of social networks, increased use of social media and people who feel that polarized from each other due to different ideologies.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation also affect people disproportionately — older adults and young people, people in poor health, single parents, lonely people who live, those without a lot of money and people with disabilities may be at higher risk, according to the report.
Read more: These 7 Tricks Make Making New Friends as an Adult Easy
How loneliness affects health
It can be difficult to disentangle the direct link between loneliness and health, as other factors that can reduce your risk of chronic disease, such as physical activity, preparing nutritious meals and even going at a doctor’s appointment is always more difficult to do. if you don’t have support or help from another person. Lack of access to health care services can also affect certain groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities.
But loneliness and the stress it brings can also have a direct impact on health. Loneliness activates the sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to an increase in stress hormones, inflammation and hypertension. Loneliness can also affect your sleep, which affects your overall health.
Tips for finding community and less loneliness
If you feel lonely, you are not alone. According to an advisory from the surgeon general, about half of US adults have reported feeling lonely in recent years.
Feeling alone or isolated can come from feeling disconnected from other people or community. Feeling “connected” can vary based on a person’s life, but usually comes through things like talking to someone and feeling that the other person understands you, having an enjoyable experience with another person, or do an act of kindness for someone and feel good about the fact that you did another person the feeling is good.
To make more fun or meaningful connections and overcome feelings of loneliness, one of the things you can do is join a club or group in something you like to do. You can also join a support group – possibly even an in-person group in your area through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, you may want to consider therapy from a professional who can make sure your needs are met.
But it’s also scary trying to make friends, especially as you get older when you feel like you’re the only one looking for other mature friends (not true). For tips on putting yourself out there, follow this CNET list of tricks that can make meeting like-minded people easier.