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How loneliness can be bad for your physical and mental health

“Loneliness is associated with psychopathology, such as anxiety, depression and stress, but also on a physical level, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems,” says psychologist Ana Valente.

Loneliness is one of the main factors responsible for isolating oneself. However, it can also be a direct consequence of this isolation, generating a vicious circle where the person isolates himself because he feels alone and feels alone because he is isolated.

As a feeling, loneliness varies greatly from person to person. But one thing is certain: he does not choose gender or age. And the course of life, especially when marked by “negative experiences in relationships with others”, can be decisive for a greater vulnerability to loneliness, says Marta Calado, a psychologist at Clínica da Mente.

There are several triggers that make a person more vulnerable to loneliness and the desire to isolate themselves. Psychologist Ana Valente cites the example of “living alone, the most vulnerable economic conditions, mobility disorders, being an informal caregiver, widow, unemployed, where you live, whether you are closer to others or not “.

But he points out that loneliness “often relates to our psychological health and our life history, which can contribute to being more alone and isolated and to the development of a feeling of loneliness”.

And how to diagnose loneliness? Evaluate how well the person is doing.

“Health professionals need to know how to distinguish a satisfactory trend towards isolation, they have time to develop their own reflections, from what it is to feel lonely. When we feel alone, we do not necessarily want to be alone. We feel a tightness in our chest, a void. We feel that the lives of others are fulfilling. We have to deal with emotions of sadness, disappointment, frustration, ”said psychologist Marta Calado.

Feel alone without being alone

Although it is associated with isolation, loneliness can affect a person even when he is at home, with family, close friends, or at work. Some people feel lonely even when they have company and the person may see it “when they don’t feel integrated, they feel rejected”.

This ‘accompanying loneliness’ “is one of the many experiences that makes the person gain defense and protection mechanisms and not expose himself so much to others”. However, “without realizing it, they end up leading a life more focused on individual goals or group restrictions”, not least because the person may feel alone in the presence of certain individuals or groups and not always when accompanied, of Martha. Kalado ..

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According to the psychologist, the person may lack a sense of belonging to the home and family, but find it “in the family of the heart, which are the friends he has chosen”.

Ana Valente adds that this feeling of loneliness when not effectively alone was evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially among the youngest, who “could not have feelings of belonging and could not identify” with whom they shared a roof.

Feeling lonely in the presence of others causes what Marta Calado calls “internal conflict”: an “emotional ambiguity, which has psychological and behavioral impacts”, especially when the loneliness they feel with people and people is always, as can be the case. a family or work environment.

How loneliness affects physical and mental health
Loneliness and social isolation can lead to a series of mental and physical problems, while also being a consequence of them. “Loneliness is associated with psychopathology, such as anxiety, depression and stress, but also on a physical level, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems,” says Ana Valente.

And by “associating” it is understood that it is cause and effect, which can lead to the feeling of loneliness, but that even this feeling can affect a person’s physical and mental health.

A person who is constantly experiencing feelings of loneliness may experience “changes in sleep or appetite. The person may cry, have a greater lack of concentration, feel sadness, may have persistent and constant thoughts that lead them to think why they are not enough and interesting to others “, continues Marta Calado.

Looking at the impact on physical health, there is no lack of scientific evidence proving the relationship between loneliness and isolation and health problems. In 2019, a study published in PLOS One revealed that social isolation is associated with a greater tendency for physical inactivity, poor diet and the use of psychotropic medications, factors that can trigger health problems such as obesity or depression, for example.

“Social isolation may be less prevalent at younger ages, but it is even more strongly associated with poor health and behavior than at older ages,” the research shows.

Another study, from the same year, but published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that seniors are also more vulnerable to social isolation and consequent loneliness.

The findings suggest that “greater social isolation in older men and women is related to reduced daily physical activity goals and longer sedentary time”, two factors also having a direct impact on physical health.

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Social Isolation (PSI) [solidão] is linked to increased risk of chronic disease and mortality, “explains a 2015 study published in PNAS, which shows a greater trend towards inflammation and a lower ability to respond to viruses.

A study published in 2017 by the American Psychological Association provides an example of this, stating that individuals who were exposed to rhinovirus were more likely to develop symptoms of constipation than those who were not alone.

But there are other equally painful impacts, such as an increasing tendency for physical ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death, reveals the US National Institute on Aging. United States. In addition, it leaves the elderly even more vulnerable to the effects of aging on the brain. According to a study, seniors in social isolation or in a state of loneliness show worse mental function four years later.

“Without a doubt, someone who feels lonely does not feel well-being and psychological satisfaction,” says Marta Calado, explaining that, in the elderly, it is common to take antidepressants when the feeling of loneliness is a constant.

“It is natural for those who are more lonely to take an antidepressant so that they can more easily tolerate this emotional management, lack of enthusiasm, joy and the opportunity to find courage. Especially because the situation of this life and its psychological consequences will have physical consequences, because isolation makes people tend not to move so much, there are physical problems, such as muscle contractions, pain, cramps, accumulated tension. ”

Scientists at McGill University in Canada last year revealed a kind of signature in the human brain independently, which is reflected in variations in the volume of different brain regions, as well as the way these regions interact with each other in brain networks.

In practice, according to the study published in Nature Communications, changes in people’s brains have centered on a so-called “model network”, a set of brain regions involved in internal thinking, such as remembering, projecting or thinking about other people. .

“Scientists found that human model networks were more closely connected and, surprisingly, the volume of gray matter in model network regions was larger.” However, people who live alone are relieved of earlier mental decline and faster onset of signs of dementia, explains Science Daily.

Despite being an association that has already been done several times by science, the truth is that it is still “uncertain” whether the effects of social isolation or loneliness “are independent or whether loneliness represents the emotional pathway in which social isolation is unhealthy.” a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Prevent loneliness and avoid isolation

“We all have a role to play in the community and in society,” says Ana Valente. The psychologist says that “taking care of ourselves, whether the family or the neighbor” helps the individual to stop feeling alone, at least a little, alone, either because they have been helped or because they are helping.

“We can all do something to combat loneliness, not least because that’s very positive for the well-being and mental health of those who help,” he emphasizes.

Ana Valente also considers that “self-care” should be the starting point, including habits such as “taking care of physical and mental health, doing physical activity and having a healthy diet” in this work.

But it is also necessary to know how to filter and, on this, the psychologist talks about the importance of “be careful with filtering information and TV programs”, especially those involved for more dramatic content and that can lead to sadness. “, adds Marta Shut up.

One of the secrets to not feeling the need to isolate oneself is to “do the things that are pleasing to him. He can listen to music, go for a walk, volunteer, find an active role in the community where people come in. ”This last point is even more beneficial for the elderly, especially when they retire and lose their normal routine. and even, in some cases, its purpose.

“Playing an active role in the community brings positive emotions and reduces the most negative feelings, such as loneliness,” notes Ana Valente.

Maintain routine and have daily planning “in the sense of busy 24 hours a day with work, whether it’s calling a friend or family member, walking the pet, having work for the daily shopping, talking to neighbors, accompanying or Take Care of Your Neighbor’s Seed ”is also a way for Marta Calado to deal with loneliness.

Although social networks are associated with isolation, in some cases they can be essential tools in maintaining contact and reducing distance, reducing the feeling of loneliness. Physical isolation continues, but keeping in touch with others, even digital ones, can help a person feel less alone.

By: CCN Brazil

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