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How loneliness affects your health and what you can do about it

Nov 22, 2017

How does loneliness impact your mental and physical health?

Dr. Farha AbbasiMichigan State University psychiatrist, believes loneliness is one of the greatest challenges we face as a society. She joined Stateside to share her work.

Listen above for the full conversation and check out some highlights below.

What loneliness does to us

“With the advent of social media, all of us are more focused on our digital and technology rather than relationships, so even if you’re at a family dinner, everybody’s on their cell phones or on their social media, so I think socially we are becoming more isolated. But how I explain isolation is not having that comfort zone, that loving bond, or support system around you — that kind of nurture. Not only your physical sense of wellbeing, your physical health, but it also can have great impact on your sense of wellbeing — on your mental health.”

“What happens when you are in a loving relationship, there is a hormone which is oxytocin, which we can, in layperson’s language, call it love hormone. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps a mother bond to a child, or for a child to bond to a mother, so that’s where we started studying oxytocin. But then we realized that whenever we are in social settings or [with] people that we are for or love for, this oxytocin is released in high levels. And oxytocin can impact your mood, but also can impact your memory, your focus, your concentration, so you’re performing at a higher level under the impact of oxytocin.”

Who is particularly susceptible

“If you are not a very social person, if you are a very introverted person, or if you have high creativity levels or are highly artistic, you tend to have certain tastes in friendships, you find it difficult to match, but isolation is very high in our LGBTQ population as well because any time that you fear you will be rejected or not accepted, you tend to stay away socially and that creates that sense of isolation and then can lead to a sense of alienation and, in the worst situation, we see it worsens your depression.”

“One thing I see in these isolation rates having a really detrimental effect on our geriatric population — our grandparents and older population that’s living in nursing homes. So, in their case it’s not only emotional isolation, it’s also there’s no sensory stimulation left for them … and that actually impacts their memory and causes dementia or worsens dementia and depression both.”

How to work against loneliness

“I would say the thing is finding your tribe, finding your people, so even if you are doing stuff with the holiday with the family and you feel you are not accepted or you don’t feel connected, so then create that time for yourself where you can hang out with that one person, two persons, or clubs or activities that you feel validated in. And there are a lot of activities out there, it’s just a matter of finding them and connecting and having the courage to do them.”

“Maybe if you are a lonely person and you might not find connections with your age group, this is a good time to visit nursing homes because another thing is whenever you are volunteering and trying to go beyond your own suffering and pain, you are able to help someone else, which in turn actually helps you feel better.”

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