Which leads to loneliness becoming detrimental

Shortened life expectancy Loneliness is as harmful as smoking

We all feel lonely from time to time. For those who find this to be a permanent condition, however, they often live less healthily and have to reckon with health consequences - even a shorter lifetime, as the evaluation of 148 studies from the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia showed. The research shows that loneliness is just as bad for us as smoking or obesity. The prospects seem bleak considering the many single households and the fact that there are more and more older people among us who may have already lost their partner. But being alone doesn't always mean feeling lonely too.

Loneliness is what we feel subjectively: the lack of social contacts, of emotional ties. Even when we are surrounded by other people, for example in the big city or at work. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state in which we are objectively not surrounded by others and there is no communication.

Annegret Wolf, psychologist at the Martin Luther University of Halle

Only when the feeling of loneliness is permanent and becomes a burden does it become dangerous. Because then our body is under stress and reacts to it. Our immune system shuts down, inflammation levels rise, and we are more ready to take a cigarette or other drugs. Many numb their grief with sweets and exercise less. The result: They are often overweight and have cardiovascular problems.

Proximity is as important as eating and drinking

The need for closeness and social relationships is a basic human need, just like eating, drinking, sleeping. So it's not really surprising that social rejection affects the same brain areas as pain.

Annegret Wolf

So those who permanently suffer from loneliness are chronically stressed and have a 26 percent higher risk of dying sooner. It may come as no surprise that people over 65 in particular feel lonely. But there is also a boom in loneliness between the ages of 30 and 34. One possible explanation for this is that we are in the "rush hour" of our lives at this time. Children, careers and house building leave too little time to cultivate friendships. Or some people just haven't found a partner for life yet. In Germany, around 20 percent say they feel lonely for a long time. Over the past 30 years, the number of people affected has risen steadily, but not everyone is at risk.

Young men in particular who have no partner or are unemployed complain of loneliness. This is because, unlike women, they define themselves more through a partnership and material. But certain personalities also tend to feel loneliness more strongly: people with a negative attitude to life, introverts and people with little empathy.

Annegret Wolf

Loneliness is contagious

Anyone who was unable to establish a secure bond with their parents as a child, for example, is often not self-confident enough for a lifetime, feels helpless and at the mercy of other people. And those who permanently surround themselves with lonely people run the risk of becoming infected. But no matter what led you into such a situation, the important thing is to find a way out. The EASE step-by-step program by the American psychologist John Cacioppo can help:

1. Expand the radius of action: to approach people again in small steps. With simple conversations at the garden fence, a smile at the supermarket checkout. Feel positive reactions and draw courage from them.

2. Get active: looking for a club, volunteering and experiencing that you are needed and that you can make a difference.

3. Select: It is better to maintain a few, but important and more intensive contacts. Stay tuned and invest something again.

4. Expect the best: think positively, have hope, experience appreciation.

These are really tips that are suitable for everyday use and that you don't need a therapist or self-help group for. It's worth just trying them out. But if you prefer to communicate with someone, the telephone counseling is also a good starting point.

Annegret Wolf

Social networks: risk or opportunity?

People who feel lonely for long periods of time often have reservations. The inhibition threshold is significantly lower in social networks because communication there is initially more anonymous. And they offer the possibility of maintaining contacts permanently, even over a distance.

This helps, for example, after moving or when you are on business trips a lot. 'Likes' also have a measurable positive effect on us. They ensure that happiness hormones are released. But all of this is clearly no substitute for real interpersonal relationships. If we are on these platforms so much that they prevent other contacts, then they clearly increase the risk of becoming lonely.

Annegret Wolf

on the radio | 05/04/2017 | 8:10 am