Loneliness - the next biggest killer?

In recent months there has been an increasing number of reports on the impact on loneliness on our overall health. With an aging population and increasing social mobility, many young people choosing to live alone more of us have the possibility of experiencing increased isolation.

"The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody." Mother Teresa

Loneliness and social isolation has been shown to have dramatic negative implications for our health. In fact it is thought to be more detrimental that obesity. Recent reports suggest that loneliness can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, lower immunity, increase depression and increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

“Loneliness is worse for your health than obesity!”

So watching a news report on this got me thinking. What’s happening inside of our body in response to the feeling of loneliness that would create these negative changes for our health? And more importantly can we do anything about it?

So I cast my mind back to a difficult time in my 20’s when I had just moved 200 miles south to take up a new job. Was I lonely? Yes! Was it an easy time in my life? No. So how did I feel in that time?

It was interesting to observe what happened in my body. Firstly I noticed that I had slightly hitched my shoulders up when remembering that time period in my life. I had also tightened my torso and my breathing became shallow.

It wasn’t a great time in my life, despite the promotion. I was recently divorced (which if you haven’t been through it can feel very like a bereavement, it’s just a bereavement of hopes and dreams, not of an actual person dying). And as all of these memories came back I felt un-resourceful and sad.

“How does loneliness affect my physiology and what can I do about it?”

So what can I do to get my body functioning better? Because immediately I could see that if that state became sustained it could potentially affect my mood, my self-esteem and my energy levels. So the first thing I did was take a deep breath and I let the breath out I felt my shoulders drop.

For those of you familiar with Somato-Respiratory Integration this would be an appropriate time to explore both stages 1 and 2. Stage 1 helps us connect with the part of us that feel alone and disconnected and stage 2 allows your body to appreciate that this physiological response is in reaction to something outside of you and it doesn’t have to be that way.

The thing is – life can be really challenging. There are times when we feel isolated, bereaved and helpless. If those feelings become the norm, it’s easy to believe that nothing can ever change and this is how it has to be. By connecting to our inner resources and listening to our body it is possible to change, to find the energy and confidence to go out into the real world and engage again. To change how these feelings affect our body is possible.

But do spare a thought though for the elderly and infirm who no longer have the physical ability to leave their houses. As society changes we need to find ways of helping this group of society remain in social contact and not become the forgotten generation.

Rachael Talbot, Re-organisational Healing, Wellness and Chiropractic, Wilmslow UK