Loneliness has been linked to numerous health hazards, including: high blood pressure, obesity, sleep
dysfunction, depression, compromised immunity and Alzheimer’s disease and increased risk for cancer. A study published in the 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
found that loneliness, like happiness, can spread through our social networks. The study, which followed more than 5,000 participants of the famous Framingham Heart Study for three decades, reported that loneliness and feelings of social isolation can travel from person to person throughout a social network up to three degrees of separation.
Researchers mapped out biannual reports from participants and their network of friends and family members and discovered that the lonely people ‘infected’ those around them over time. Scientists defined loneliness as a function of the quality of a person’s relationships, rather than the number of contacts in their personal network. Loneliness tended to beget negative behavior and more loneliness, as researchers observed people disconnecting from the few relationships they had left.
If we can look at loneliness as a signal like hunger or thirst, we can use it to warn us of a need that is not being met (in this case, our need to be able to rely on people we can trust). More tomorrow on what you can do to ease loneliness…