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Raw and Open: Loneliness can literally break your heart

Guest Author: Jody Betty

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

We all need human contact.

Human beings are social creatures by nature and although isolation is a comfort for many, human communication is vital to survival. Isolation, in many cases leads to a deep sense of loneliness which is such an overwhelming feeling. You feel like you have no one and nothing and will do almost anything not to have to feel it. It is like you are drowning in a lake with people in sight but no one close enough to throw you a line … that is the worst kind of loneliness.

Feeling like this is not only emotionally devastating but research is showing that loneliness and social isolation can impact a person’s health, causing problems ranging from high blood pressure and obesity to heart disease and stroke, much the same as anxiety and depression. Some researchers have indicated the increased rate of illness as high as 30 per cent.

Loneliness is an independent condition.

It could be because people who feel alone are generally isolated and tend to take poorer care of themselves. They have worse diets, generally not enough sleep or exercise and are more prone to not sticking to their medication routine or doctor’s appointments. After all, when you are alone, you are reliant on your own motivation, and let’s be honest, when you are feeling that low, self-motivation is a near impossibility. Top that off with the depression or anxiety or whatever other mental health issue you are dealing with and the cumulative of those factors could drive up blood pressure which could in turn lead to heart issues. Loneliness is an independent condition even though one condition may affect the other.

So for example it you were treated for depression or anxiety, the symptoms of those may dissipate but that does not mean the loneliness does.

There have been studies on the biological effects of loneliness, particularly on the stress hormone cortisol as well as the link tied to hardening of the arteries, which also leads to high blood pressure and increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Researchers define loneliness as the gap between a person’s desired and actual social relationships and chronic loneliness can wreak havoc on your blood vessels and heart by undermining regulation of the circulatory system so the heart works harder and the blood vessels become more subject to damage.

Though they may not be aware of it, lonely people tend to perceive social interactions as more negative and threatening than others do, leaving our brains on constant alert for social threats and this persistent state of stress affects the cardiovascular system. Studies have found that people who were less socially connected had higher blood pressure as well as higher levels of inflammation markers in their blood while others suggested that the risk of solitude is comparable to that posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even smoking.

Loneliness and isolation also appear to take a toll on a person’s lifespan, with some research suggesting that the increased risk for heart attack, angina or death by heart disease is 30 per cent, and the increased risk for stoke by 32 per cent, for both men and women.

Being alone can break your heart—literally.

So as much as your illness is telling you to isolate and feeding into your feelings of loneliness, try and fight it the best you can. Try to allow yourself a small support group be it with friends or family or even in the online world. Sometimes the company of a distant stranger is welcome; non-judgmental support from people who may be struggling with loneliness as well. Not only is it important for our mental health but as studies may be proving…loneliness can literally break your heart.

Being alone can break your heart—literally.

Jody Betty is a guest blogger for SickNotWeak who, in her own words, is a master at the art of survival. She lives with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and is co-afflicted with MDD, Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She has survived three serious suicide attempts and a handful of overdoses which lets her know it isn’t her time. You can read her blog “Raw and Open” posted bi-weekly on Thursdays on SNW.

Comments

Donna Hudson
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Thanks for posting this Jody. It’s a pretty accurate definition of where I am at in my life. I have come to the conclusion, that being alone is one of the hardest things to overcome. I’m fortunate to have my cat, so I talk to him a lot.

Carey
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I feel alone much of the time. Most of my friends have abandoned me since my depression has been long and dragged out. I thank God every day for my family. They are the ones who truly care. Without them I don’t know where I would be today.

Weary
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Amen. This is one of my biggest challenges – living alone and being terribly lonely.

This may seem like an aside but shared housing is growing in popularity, including in Canada. The idea of sharing and caring for one another who are not related has so many benefits. I am keenly interested in this idea, it makes sense on so many levels – including the battle against loneliness. Recently, stats were released that said there are more people living alone than ever before – and it’s not healthy. We weren’t meant to be alone.

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