Sick from social distancing—what isolation can predict about your health
Our social connections not only bring us happiness and pleasure, but they also influence our health in ways we may not realize. As we learned in 2020, when we do not nurture and support our relationships, we really suffer—not just mentally, but physically too.
If there’s anything we’ve learned (or reaffirmed) from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that we are social creatures at our core. Most of us have a strong desire to be around others, and we crave strong relationships and deep, personal connections with other people.
And research continues to show just how critical relationships are to our wellbeing—as important as diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle habits.
How Relationships Affect the Quality of Your Health
A few years ago, researchers out of Brigham Young University found that people with strong relationships were 50% less likely to die prematurely compared to those without these types of interpersonal connections.1
Along with longevity, healthy relationships—familial, romantic, and friendships alike—have other important benefits. They are linked to decreased production of the stress hormone cortisol, which equates to less emotional and psychological stress.
The right type of relationships can also lead to better and faster healing and healthier behaviors overall.
Think about it—if you are surrounded by people who eat a healthy diet, exercise, don’t smoke or drink, etc., you’re more likely to follow suit. Conversely, a lack of quality relationships can hurt your health in a multitude of ways.
The same Brigham Young study showed that having few or no close relationships had the equivalent health effects of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day!
A more recent study showed that loneliness may even predict the onset of type 2 diabetes.2
This is especially poignant right now since diseases increase your risk of getting sicker, a vicious cycle.
The Dangers of Chronic Loneliness
Continued quarantines and lockdowns leave many of us feeling isolated and lonely for extended periods of time—the ideal conditions, the study suggests, for developing type 2 diabetes.
As we now know, conditions like type 2 diabetes puts us at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, having more severe infection symptoms, or even dying from it. It is a potentially dangerous (and lonely) path that no one wants to travel.
In this study, researchers analyzed data on 4,112 adults aged 50 and older. At the start of the study in 2002, none of the participants had diabetes or elevated glucose levels. Over the next 12 years, 264 people developed type 2 diabetes—and their level of loneliness at the start of the study was a significant predictor of this later diagnosis.
This link remained significant even when other diabetes risk factors were taken in account, such as smoking, alcohol, and blood glucose levels.
Of note, there was a difference between loneliness and social isolation. Living or being alone did not predict diabetes risk, but loneliness and lack of quality relationships did.
A possible reason for this connection, according to researchers, is the impact that constant loneliness has on levels of stress—and stress also happens to increase inflammation and risk of diabetes and other diseases.
Relieve Loneliness and Reduce Disease Risk
If you are feeling lonelier now than ever before, know that you are not the only one. That said, even during a pandemic, it is possible to stay social while social distancing.
The challenge in these extraordinary times is to find safe ways to enhance the quality of the relationships you already have and form new, meaningful connections with people who can relate to you and your current situation. These new ways of socializing might take some getting used, but the benefits to your health are worth it.
Additionally, high quality supplements may help you fight back the negative health effects caused by loneliness. Natural ingredients like curcumin help keep chronic inflammation at bay, while a good, high-quality multivitamin provides the nutritional foundation you need to support both physical and mental health.
Your mental/emotional state plays a huge role in your physical health. Depression, stress, anxiety, loneliness, and negativity can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation that can lead to countless physical diseases, if left untreated.
Building quality relationships can help you combat the loneliness associated with today’s recommended distancing. And nurturing those relationships may help you both emotionally and physically.
The easiest way to do that (even in a pandemic) is to continue to reach out to your loved ones, pick up the phone, do a video conference, meet up for walks, and be open to welcoming new friendships into your life.
By doing so, you will overcome loneliness—and your health will be stronger for it.
Take good care.
Disclaimer: Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Last Updated: December 4, 2020
Originally Published: December 4, 2020