Loneliness Associated With Physical Health Issues

New research suggests that daily instances of loneliness may be harmful to our physical health.

A study by Penn State researchers highlights the harmful effects of loneliness on daily health. Published in Health Psychology, it underscores how even temporary feelings of loneliness can lead to symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and nausea, supporting the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2023 statement on loneliness as a public health crisis.

The study involved 1,538 participants aged 35-65 from the National Study of Daily Experiences (NSDE), one of the studies in the MacArthur Foundation Survey of Midlife in the United States, and assessed daily stress and mood over eight days, with a follow-up survey ten years later.

Results showed that less frequent or intense loneliness correlates with fewer and less severe physical symptoms.

Researchers suggest that addressing daily variations in loneliness could improve short-term health outcomes. Professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and senior author on the paper, Professor David Almeida, said, “These findings suggest that day-to-day dynamics of loneliness may be crucial in understanding and addressing the health effects of loneliness”

“Increasing feelings of social connection even for one day could result in fewer health symptoms on that day. Such a daily focus offers a manageable and hopeful micro-intervention for individuals living with loneliness.

Dr Dakota Witzel, the lead author, emphasizes that understanding these daily fluctuations is crucial for addressing both the immediate and long-term health effects of loneliness.

“A lot of research is focused on loneliness being a binary trait – either you’re lonely or you’re not. But based on our own anecdotal lives, we know that’s not the case. Some days are worse than others – even some hours.”

Dakota added, “If we can understand variations in daily loneliness, we can begin to understand how it affects our daily and long-term health”.

Read more about the effects of loneliness on one’s mental health in this blog.

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