The Effects of Loneliness On The Human Brain
By Drew Canole
Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives. It is a natural part of human existence. Unfortunately, there are some who suffer from it more than most. Although humans are born separate and unique, we all long for togetherness and inclusion and a place where we belong.
Have you ever thought about how loneliness can affect you biologically?
Turns out, loneliness can actually have an effect on your genes.
Researchers studying epigenetics have found that loneliness can ALTER gene expression; having a direct influence on genes that regulate the immune system, inflammation and brain development.
Loneliness may take a particular toll on the frontal cortex; the part of the brain that controls impulsive and inappropriate behavior. Problems in this section of the brain can also lead to certain mental disabilities like ADD, ADHD, bipolar and schizophrenia.
So what does this mean, exactly? Are people who feel more loneliness than others more at risk to develop certain mental disorders? Scientists think it’s possible.
John Cacioppo, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago has been studying the biological effects of loneliness for many years. He’s found that even creatures as simple as fruit flies will have worse health and die sooner when isolated than those flies who interact with others.
Loneliness may affect the body in areas other than the frontal lobe. In many cases, prolonged feelings of loneliness increases stress – weakening the immune system and potentially leading to chronic stress and illness. It can also make it harder to sleep normally because it disrupts our diurnal cycles.
One of John’s studies showed that loneliness causes genes in the immune system, those responsible for antiviral response and antibody protection, to become underexpressed. Some of the loneliest people he’s studied also have problems with inflammation in their immune systems.
What other problems can loneliness cause? Think for a moment about how loneliness feels. When you are feeling that longing to be included or feel close with another individual, where in the body do you feel that ache most?
If you’re like a lot of people, you feel loneliness the most strongly in your chest area. Coming from right around your heart. Studies are showing that loneliness actually takes quite a toll on your heart; causing the actual arteries to narrow and become inflamed. This means your heart has to work harder to pump blood. If this continues for long enough it can raise one’s risk of developing heart disease.
So what is the best thing for lonely people to do? Loneliness can’t always be cured by spending time with more people. Some people feel isolated in their social groups and feel as if they are “alone” while surrounded by dozens of people.
Here are a few ideas:
#1 Don’t Play The Victim
Life can throw a lot of challenging circumstances at us. Maybe you were raised in an abusive home. Maybe you have some unique characteristics and are picked on at school or don’t have any friends. Maybe you feel insecure enough about yourself that it keeps you from interacting with other people very much or going out of your way to find friends. Maybe you have low confidence levels and feel safer spending most of your time at home away from people.
As difficult (and trust me, I know they are difficult) as these situations are, I would encourage you to not be a victim. Don’t just let life happen to you. Happen to LIFE. Stretch yourself, be bold, find people who you can relate to and go out of your way to become their friends. Find places where you are likely to meet people that are like you.
If you are in an abusive relationship where you feel isolated and alone, get out. Find support. Find help. You don’t have to face it alone anymore. Have courage to do what is best for YOURSELF and your family/future family. You were born with more light than the stars in the sky and your worth is beyond imagination. Don’t sacrifice yourself and your worth for someone else.
#2 Do Not Settle For Bad Friends
We are so influenced by the people with spend the most time with. Don’t waste your time with people who pull you down or make you feel like you’re not good enough. Be brave enough to get them out of your life so that you can open up space for new people who will love you for who you are.
Empower yourself by realizing that you can control who you give your time to. Better to spend time with no one at all than energy vampires who bring you down and make you feel like you’re alone anyways.
#3 Realize You Need Both Social Relationships AND Intimate Ones
If you only have one or the other you may find yourself feeling unfulfilled. Make room in your life for those people who are most important to you and also reach out to make new friends and create social circles.
I want to hear from you!
Have you ever gone through a time in your life where you were particularly lonely? What helped you pull out of this time? What strategies did you use to help you overcome the loneliness? I would love to hear about your experiences.
Drew Canole is a rockstar in the world of fitness, nutrition and mindset, with a huge heart for others and doing his part to transform the world, one person at a time.
As the founder and CEO of Fitlife.TV, he is committed to sharing educational, inspirational and entertaining videos and articles about health, fitness, healing and longevity. He is also a best selling author and the founder of Organifi, an organic, incredibly delicious greens powder, chock-full of superfoods to make juicing easy no matter your busy schedule.
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