Humans are wired for connection. Feeling like we belong and matter helps us thrive. However, when we’re missing that feeling of connection, loneliness and isolation can set in and wreak havoc on our mental and physical health.
Here, we’ll talk about the physical, emotional, and mental health impacts of isolation and loneliness, and what you can do to help promote social connectedness so you and those around you can avoid the negative effects of loneliness.
The connections between loneliness and overall health
Both loneliness and isolation have been linked to a slew of health problems, from mental health conditions to heart disease and weakened immune systems. When we feel lonely or isolated, our bodies are flooded with stress hormones like cortisol, which can lead to a host of negative health outcomes.
In fact, the Surgeon General's Advisory recently shared just how connected loneliness and isolation are to our overall health:
“The physical health consequences of poor or insufficient connection include a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of developing dementia for older adults. Additionally, lacking social connection increases risk of premature death by more than 60%.”
Moreover, the advisory reported that:
- Loneliness and isolation is tied to depression and anxiety
- Lack of social connection contributes to suicide
- Social connection can protect against depression
In his Psychology Today column, SonderMind’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Doug Newton, MD, MPH, shares that these statistics solidify “just how seriously we need to be in our efforts to reduce loneliness if we want to improve our mental and physical health.”
What you can do to combat loneliness and isolation
So, what can you do to decrease loneliness and isolation and strengthen social connectedness? The first step is to acknowledge the importance of social connection to your overall health. From there, there are a variety of ways we can start to build more meaningful connections.
Referencing the six foundational pillars from the Surgeon General’s report, Dr. Newton shares what you can do to make sure you, your kids, family, and neighbors don’t feel the alarming effects of loneliness and depression:
- Build up social environments: Encourage those in charge of your town’s infrastructure to design and use environments and programs in your community that promote social connection. Think parks, playgrounds, and libraries.
- Ask for government support: Be proactive in asking national, state, and local governments to support connections among a community or a family through services such as public transportation or benefits such as paid family leave.
- Be mindful of your social media use: Evaluate and ensure your use of social media and digital technology doesn’t take away from meaningful and healing connection with others. Social media can often make us feel even more alone, and it’s important to be mindful of the negative effects it can have on our well-being.
- Deepen your knowledge: Understand the causes and consequences of social disconnection and what you can do to help boost healthy interactions with others. Just by reading this article, you’re making an effort to stop the negative effects of loneliness and isolation in your life and in the lives of others close to you.
- Create a culture of connection: Think about and make connections with others whenever possible. This can be as simple as calling a friend or family member to check in, implementing a “no phone” rule at the dinner table, or even striking up a conversation with a stranger. Making an effort to stay social with others builds and strengthens your connections with them and decreases loneliness.
Loneliness and isolation can often be overlooked as “less important” mental health conditions, but the Surgeon General’s Advisory underscores the major impacts loneliness and isolation can have on our health. Building meaningful connections with others is crucial to our overall well-being, and it's important to prioritize this aspect of our lives. So make that phone call to a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile or sign up to volunteer at your community’s next event — your body and mind will thank you.
Building social connectedness is a team effort
You don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes we need some extra support to break out of bouts of loneliness and isolation. If you or a loved one is feeling a lack of social connection, therapy can help you develop skills to start rebuilding connections and improve your whole well-being. If you’re interested in connecting with a licensed therapist, SonderMind can help. Let us know what you’re looking for, and we’ll find someone who’s right for you.