An interesting psychological study at Berkley university showed that those who most often used the personal pronoun ‘I’ (or me, my) were more likely to have heart disease and to die of a heart attack. Those who said “we” and “us” – i.e. those with social ties – were shown to be healthier than those without them, even if the isolated individuals had a healthier lifestyle. Of course those with friends and a healthy lifestyle lived longest of all. The current trend in self-promotion and the mentality of the “me” generation may be the precursors of a wave of disease and poor health in years to come.
Connecting to others and caring about them prolongs life, whether it be through a network of friends, church or volunteer groups, and is just about the healthiest thing we can do. When we lose a partner, or the social connections of work, adopting a ‘new life’ strategy may spare us the fate of being yet another statistic of someone who retired and then expired. Having friends is good for your health in part because stress levels are lower during times of trial when we are accompanied by a supportive other. Loneliness causes depression, anxiety and lack of confidence but there is plenty of evidence it is also bad for our physical health. In one of the most famous experiments on social connections, those with friends in a group exposed to the cold virus were far less likely to fall sick (of course connections that harm us or cause stress, such as an unhappy home relationship, will not have the same positive effects).
Lonely people release cortisol, too much of which can cause chronic inflammation and disease. Feeling lonely is a health risk. Rather than sinking into ‘poor me’ thinking, if we wish to live a long life it is our responsibility to organise visits and outings for ourselves. Doing things with others and especially for others can stave off feelings of “I’m only doing this because I’m desperate”.
Currently half of over 75-year-olds in the UK live alone. Being lonely has been found to be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. If we find we are spending long stretches on our own, let’s act now and get out there. Even if it’s simply online.
Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Cia de Foto via Compfight cc