Studies are showing that loneliness is a risk factor for a number of health issues.
Problems like disturbed sleep and low cardiac output, which can lead to an imbalance between oxygen delivery and oxygen consumption leading to metabolic acidosis (when the body produces excessive quantities of acid), are being linked to prolonged feelings of loneliness.
The studies have found that social isolation makes people vulnerable to disease and can shorten life. When looking at the findings of many similar studies, the results suggest that loneliness is as risky to health as obesity.
An interesting fact has emerged from the studies too that show that some people may have a hereditary disposition for feelings of loneliness. In twin studies it was found that though loneliness may change across a lifespan according to environmental factors, there did appear to be evidence of genetic contribution.
It is worth noting too that these studies were conducted across various age ranges, from young adults to the elderly.
“People are becoming more isolated, and this health problem is likely to grow, if we know that loneliness is involved in health problems, the next question is what we can do to mitigate it,” says John Cacioppo, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago.
As there is growing appreciation for its effect on physical and mental health, researchers have now been looking at the effectiveness of intervening with social and cognitive therapy in the treatment of loneliness.
Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a study that analysed four different strategies to interrupt the loneliness cycle.
The methods involved working with patients to improve social skills, enhance social support, increase opportunities for social contact, and address “maladaptive social cognition” – negative core beliefs or thoughts about self.
They found, through assessing 20 studies and conducting there own, that by far the most effective method for reducing loneliness was “targeting social cognition — a person’s thoughts about themselves and others.” Getting at the root cause of the isolation has been proven to be more effective than any other strategies.
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