Studies are showing that loneliness can be deadly, even more so than obesity. (Shutterstock)
Independence is glorified in North American culture as a symbol of strength. As a society, we value individual achievement and extol self-reliance.
I am expert on aging and retirement and I also help employees transition from work to retirement by facilitating seminars and workshops in corporate Canada. And I often wonder however if our “go at it alone” attitude has led us down a lonely and isolating path.
Here are some recent stats:
• 40 per cent of Americans don’t feel close to others at any given time. And the number of lonely Americans has doubled since the 1980s.
• In a recent Canadian Association of Retired People poll, 16 per cent of Canadians indicated that they lacked companionship
• Fifteen per cent in the CARP poll said they had nobody to turn to or talk to
• Fifteen per cent were unhappy doing things alone.
I suspect that these numbers are even higher among the general Canadian population, not just CARP members.
According to science, loneliness shortens our lifespan. Twice as much as obesity. Yes, you read that right.
Dr. John Cacioppo, the world’s foremost authority on loneliness, maintains that the number of people in your life does not inoculate you from experiencing loneliness. Rather, it’s the feeling of being lonely that places the brain and body at risk.
Cacioppo equates feeling lonely with feeling hungry. We compromise our survival and well-being when either is ignored.
We are biologically hardwired to respond to our environment. When we experience low blood-sugar levels, we crave food. The feeling of our stomachs being empty is a warning sign to eat and it’s essential to our very survival.
When we feel lonely, we desire connection with others, much like the loud rumble that your tummy makes when hungry.
Loneliness triggers “hyper-vigilance.” That is your brain is on the lookout for social threats, which consequently puts us on the defensive. We become more reactive to negative events and perceive daily hassles as more stressful.