Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loneliness, poor health appear to be linked

University of Arizona (2010, June 21). Loneliness, poor health appear to be linked. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from Science Daily. Two studies have found that hoarding friends doesn't necessarily diminish forlorn feelings and that loneliness is a matter of perception. Superficial relationships, researchers say, can not only result in feelings of detachment, but also contribute to certain health-related problems.

Remember Robert Putnam's book several years ago, Bowling Alone.  He made a startling statement in that book, the lack of social connectedness was worse for your life expectancy than smoking.  If he was correct, and the current studies from the University of Arizona support his hypothesis, then what is to become of all the folks who sit at home alone playing computer games?  Do on-line social networks count?  I'd be interested to see what the researchers think about that.  As more of us develop our virtual friendships, how does the quality of those connections compare with real-life?  The Arizona studies found that quality of relationships was more important than quantity.

I like my social networks and find them comforting.  It's validating to put thoughts out there and have folks comment on them, whether the comments are for or against.  I find other humans fascinating so I like it when I see some posts that people are doing their laundry, preparing to paint the living room, or returning from vacation. I even like reading what people eat.  Personally, I love the virtual world but I wouldn't swap it for real life friends.

Living with all life's joys and burdens is a pleasure for sure. Without someone to share it all, it loses its flavor.  It's easy to see why daily stresses can build over time and threaten a person's well-being.  Too much adrenaline suppresses the immune system.  The effect is so pronounced that certain military units have had to curb the the rigors of their training, because soldiers were becoming sick with opportunistic infections.  Adrenaline is also given to patients whose immune system is over-reacting in the acute and serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.  Consider a person who is lonely and stressed and whose adrenaline perhaps never gets a break.  It is easy to see how chronic feelings of isolation might suppress our immune systems and make us sick over time.

Loneliness is a terrible thing and it seems our bodies don't like it any more than our minds.



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