HUMANS are social animals and loneliness can kill, literally.
In fact chronic loneliness, more likely in a society where more people live alone and communicate through technology, has been linked to health problems ranging from anxiety disorders to substance abuse.
It's also a risk factor for cancer and cardiovascular disease, say researchers.
It seems those who are socially isolated have poorer immune systems than those who are socially active.
Scientists say those with poor support networks or relationships have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, that can affect the body's ability to fight infection.
Conversely, being with others can lead to a release of the "feel good" hormone oxytocin which is an anti-inflammatory.
But here's something really startling that may prompt you to find ways to improve your level of sociability.
A review of 148 studies involving more than 300,000 people by Brigham Young University in Utah, concluded that being lonely and isolated was as bad for a person's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.
They added that it was also as harmful as not exercising and twice as bad for your health as being obese.
The study was published in the journal PLoS Medicine last year.
Researchers said friends and family could improve health in numerous ways, from help in tough times to finding meaning in life.
Sociable people also seem to take better care of themselves and take fewer risks.
So, as well as looking after yourself physically, remember that your emotional health is just as important to long-term wellbeing.
Ways to combat loneliness
- Get plenty of exercise, preferably in a group setting. You'll boost feel-good endorphins and meet other people interested in staying fit and healthy.
- Join a class or find an interest group.
- Tap into community services that offer outings for the housebound. Contact your local council.
- Check with your local school, church or community centre for volunteer opportunities.
- Spend less time on Facebook and more time outside the house where you might meet people, whether in a cafe or a park.
- Start a club yourself, for example a book club or even a tennis group or dog-walking club.
- Organise a neighbourhood barbecue or garage sale and meet more people in your community.
- Don't allow yourself to dwell on negative feelings. When you feel loneliness coming on, get out and do something.
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