Negative Effects of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health

The feeling of loneliness or being detached from others is not just a human emotion; it is a complex emotional response to the lack of companionship. Although, days pass by with tremendous speed forcing each one of us to run with it at its pace. But if we take a moment to stand and think about our relations and friendships, how many of us enjoy true companionship? It is said that one in every five persons is lonely and a majority of people don’t have anyone to talk to or spend time with, and this rate is increasing rapidly. Loneliness has increased with modernization, since people are engrossed in virtual social communities and networks and don’t have the urge to attend social gathering or stay in touch with family and friends. But, with time, loneliness and lack of companionship makes people vulnerable which affects physical and mental health to increases the chances of mental health disorders.

Research shows that loneliness is connected to genetics but there are several external factors that lead to loneliness and social isolation in certain individuals in whom it works as a major depressive disorder that can even lead to suicide.

Abused or Rejected by Others

Loneliness and depression are closely related. It is a sense of isolation that can develop in an individual who has been repeatedly rejected or abused by family or friends. Abuse can come from being made fun of, being abandoned by family or friends, being tortured with abusive language.

Abused or Rejected by Others

All of these come under the heading of psychological assault that can be one of the main reasons for depression and induce the individual to alienate himself from the society, thereby shutting out people who can harm him or help him.

Inability to Fit In

Certain physical disability or excessive introvert nature can promote an individual to think that he does not fit into his group or is a misfit in the rest of the crowd. Although, these individuals try to be like everyone else and mix with the crowd rather than standing out, but their inability to break the ice and cross the barrier prevents them from being part of the group.

Cannot fit in

The desire might not only be to fit in, but also to be well-liked and popular. Such conditions give rise to fillings of anxiety and depression.

Heart Break

For people who are excessively emotional and sensitive, a broken heart due to break up or divorce can have serious effects on mental health. The feeling of intense loneliness after a break up and the feelings of missing a loved one might be difficult for some people to handle.

talk to a depressed friend

For most people these feelings are short-lived and they cope with it effectively. But for some, the feeling can continue for years pushing them towards loneliness which can also cause mental diseases and psychiatric disorders.

Death and Divorceloneliness

Divorce or death of a spouse pushes the other one into the darkness of loneliness and depression. Although, online dating is extremely popular among divorcees, but in most cases these meetings are not serious and cannot make up for the emotional trauma and depression an individual suffers due to the lack of his/her long-time companion. Sending a private message, scrolling through the feeds aimlessly and liking someone else’s posts and updates make people feel miserable about themselves.

Social Media

With the advancement of social media, people have become more engrossed in virtual communities and online friendships and are becoming less interested in maintaining real life social ties with family members, friends and neighbours. But research shows that spending too much time on social networking sites can backfire and actually make people feel lonelier.


Depression is a common part of aging and reduced physical strength, mobility and diseases are sure to affect the mental health of elderly people. But with change and reform in the social structure of the modern society the value and importance of elders have become more obscure.


In traditional societies, the elders held a vital position of preserving and propagating community customs and history. But with modernization, the scenario has changed, pushing elder people into the zone of marginalized and rejected individuals both in families and neighbourhoods, making them lonely and miserable.

Negative Impact of Loneliness on Physical and Mental Health

Loneliness is hardly seen as a serious disorder, but in reality, chronic loneliness and feelings of alienation can be extremely detrimental to health. It can induce alcoholism, make a person suicidal and increase the risk of mental health disorders.

Loneliness can Affect the Brain Like Physical Pain

Loneliness is one of the major causes of mental diseases and the sense of isolation can have a similar effect on brain that is noted when an individual experiences physical pain. The sense of belonging to a group or community is important not only for companionship, but also for survival.

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The Minds Impact on Illness and Overall Health

The idea that a positive outlook on life and a cheery disposition help to stave off illness is as old as the hills. Perhaps surprisingly, this adage is much more than an old wives’ tale.

Over the last few decades, the intriguing and pervasive links between neuroscience and the immune system have slowly been uncovered. What might seem, at first, like an uneasy marriage between the brain and immunity has steadily grown into a fully fledged interdisciplinary area of study.

This field is known as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI).

It is well established, in the minds of most people, that stress can induce illness and that, conversely, a fun-filled occasion with loved ones can soothe aches and pains and stave off the very same illness. What might have been referred to as pseudoscience a few decades ago now finds strong support from many quarters. PNI has deep ramifications for the future of medical research, the treatment of diseases and our attitude toward handling stress.

In this article, we will take a look at the birth of PNI, how the immune and nervous systems interact and some of the ways in which these communication pathways affect us all.

The mind’s impact on health

First, we will take a very brief look at a few examples of how psychology has been shown to influence the immune system:

  • Bereavement: stories of recently bereaved individuals dying soon after their partner are common. These tales are not just apocryphal. A study that followed 95,647 recently widowed individuals found that during the first week after bereavement, mortality was twice the expected rate. There is more to this than a metaphorical “broken heart”
  • The gut: it is now fairly well established that there is a strong association between sustained stressful life events and the onset of symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cancer: health professionals working with cancer patients know only too well that a patient’s outlook and their quantity and quality of psychological support can hugely impact the outcome of their disease and illness
  • HIV (human immunodeficiency virus): studies have found significant evidence that elevated levels of stress and diminished social support accelerates the progression of HIV infection
  • Skin complaints: psoriasis, eczema and asthma are all known to have psychological aspects to them. A stressful day at the office can have you scratching as you reach for the asthma pump
  • Wound healing: the speed at which a surgical patient heals has been linked to psychological factors. For instance, increased levels of fear or distress before surgery have been associated with worse outcomes, including longer stays in the hospital, more postoperative complications and higher rates of re-hospitalization. In one study on patients with chronic lower leg wounds, those who reported the highest levels of depression and anxiety showed significantly delayed healing.

Despite first-hand accounts of stressful or exhausting psychological events negatively impacting physical well-being, the scientific evidence behind these stories was not initially forthcoming. How could neural activity influence the activity of the immune system? The immune system’s classical messaging system – the lymph system – is not present in the central nervous system, so conversations between the two were considered impossible.

What sounds like medieval quackery is now considered science fact; the mechanisms that underpin immune-brain interactions are steadily being uncovered.

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Anger and your marriage

Failure to deal with anger in marriage is one of the most prevalent contributors to the demise of marital relationships today.

Recent research also demonstrates that it is a leading threat to physical health, predisposing adults to heart attacks (Circulation, 2016). The recognition, understanding of its complex origins and resolution of this powerful emotion are important for the health and happiness of marriages, children, and families. It’s not whether we get angry, but what we do with it that matters. It’s how we handle the angry emotions we feel toward our spouse when it occurs. Are we going to allow our anger to spew out and hurt our spouse emotionally. Or are we going to learn to find ways to express ourselves appropriately – ways to express our anger in appropriate ways that enables our spouse to feel safe amidst the upsets that inevitably happen in every marriage from time to time?

The inappropriate expression of feelings in marriage can be a major source of marital distress and unhappiness. Recognizing and managing this unruly emotion can greatly enhance the degree of security and happiness that you and your spouse achieve in your marriage.

The Harmful Effects of Expressed Anger

The impact of angry, turbulent marriages is substantial: for example, research demonstrated that unhappy marriages were a risk factor for depression and were associated with a 25 fold increase relative to happy marriages. Similarly, researchers have found a 10-fold increase in risk for depressive symptoms associated with marital discord. Marital conflict and anger are also associated with increased blood pressure, impaired immune function, and a poorer prognosis for spouses with coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.

A 2009 study revealed that spousal anger is a contributing factor to depressive illness in the other spouse. “The more hostile and anti-social behavior exhibited, the more depressed the spouses were after three years.” (Proulx C. et al., 2009).

In order to prevent serious conflicts in marital relationships, it is essential to determine whether existing anger is appropriate, excessive, or misdirected. To make this distinction, it is essential that the spouses understand the nature of anger and develop the ability to express honestly disappointments and stresses which lead to angry toward a spouse in a healthy manner.

Just as there are two types of lipoproteins in the body, one of which is healthy (high density) and one which is damaging (low density), so there are two basic types of anger in marital relationships -one healthy (appropriate anger) and one damaging. For the health of the marriage, it is essential that the excessive anger be eliminated.

If you are willing to take an honest look at yourself, come to grips with the reality that anger is an issue in your marriage and you are willing to work at it, you can overcome this maritally destructive emotion and discover the joy of peace and harmony in your marriage and family. I am a clinical psychologist based in Somerset-West, Western Cape.  If this article is of value to you and you realise that a big part of your unhappy marriage is related to anger issues,  you are welcome to contact me in order to discuss possible sessions to work towards a happy and safe marriage for you and your partner.

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Dealing With Anger in Marriage

Teenagers in love, challenges and problems

Teenagers in love can sometimes lead to unhealthy outcomes. Young people can become too exclusive when they pair up, cutting themselves off from friendship and support networks in ways that do not advance optimal development. Identity formation may be compromised if a teenager closes off developmental options through a partnership in which unhealthy living choices are made, or through early, unplanned parenthood.

Adolescents can be exposed to abusive and violent interactions or unwanted or coerced sexual activity within their romantic relationships (Mulford & Giordano, 2008). Aggression between romantic partners is common, with boys as likely to report abuse behaviour as girls. Collins et al.’s (2009) review indicates that, depending on the sample surveyed, 10 to 48 per cent of adolescents experience physical aggression and 25 to 50 per cent report psychological aggression from their romantic partner, including being sworn at, insulted and threatened. These days, aggression and bullying also occur online, for example, vengeful ex-partners have been known to share private photos or information on social media, causing embarrassment, humiliation or worse to the victim. Some teens appear to be more accepting of these situations than is healthy, for example interpreting jealousy and overly possessive behaviours as reflections of love.

Sexual coercion within romantic relationships is relatively common. A national survey of over 2000 Australian secondary students in Years 10, 11 and 12 found that among those who were sexually active, one-quarter had experienced unwanted sex (Mitchell et al., 2014). Reasons given for having sex when they did not want to included being too drunk to say no (49 per cent), frightened (28 per cent) or pressured by their partner (53 per cent). A US study of over 750 female students found almost 50 per cent had had at least one experience of unwanted sex, 70 per cent as part of a casual ‘hook-up’, and 57 per cent in a committed romantic relationship (Garcia et al., 2012). Regretted sex is also not an uncommon phenomenon among teenagers (e.g. Skinner et al., 2008).

Other challenges facing young people seeking or participating in romantic relationships include unrequited love and breaking up. In the case of unrequited love, fantasies about the other can be intense and obsessional, sometimes leading to misinterpretations that the feelings are reciprocated. In extreme cases this may result in maladjusted acting-out behaviours, such as aggression and stalking (Leitz & Theriot, 2005), but more commonly the distress is turned inwards, contributing to depression and low self-esteem, sometimes with the risk of self-harm.

Break-ups are a very common feature of adolescent romantic relationships, some of which last only a few weeks. Among a large sample of young people in their early twenties in Australia and Hong Kong, 80 per cent had experienced a break-up (Moore et al., 2012). The impact of splitting up may not be particularly severe or long-lasting, especially in the case of short-term liaisons. Nevertheless, some teenagers are more vulnerable than others. Several studies have shown romantic break-ups associated with depression, particularly among those who have already experienced mood disorders (Davila, 2008; Welsh et al., 2003). In our 2012 study, 40 per cent of participants felt very hurt following their relationship break-up, even though the majority of these dissolutions were self- or mutually initiated. Break-ups were more distressing if they were partner-initiated, and among adolescents with more ‘clingy’ relationship styles and greater tendencies toward negative mood.

Usually, time heals and experience teaches. Connolly and McIsaac (2009) researched break-ups among Canadian adolescents and found that the most common reasons given for ending a relationship related to unmet affiliation, intimacy, sexual or interdependence needs. In other words, young people were ‘moving on’ when their relationships were not fulfilling, and in the process, hopefully, were learning more about themselves and others. Over time, and through talking with others, including parents, peers and partners, adolescents can develop cognitive frameworks for better understanding the nature of intimate relationships and learn to cope with their ups and downs. One example comes from a study by Montgomery (2005) of nearly 500 young people aged 12 to 24 years, in which it was shown that older adolescents were less prone to romantic idealisation than younger ones. They were more realistic in their expectations of a romantic partner, so less liable to be disappointed. With experience, if all goes well, love becomes a little less blind.

Protective factors
With age and maturity come more realistic expectations and, hopefully, stronger capacities to make discerning partner choices, communicate and negotiate with partners and recover from relationship set backs and break ups. ‘Hopefully’ is the operative word here, because we know that people of any age can be undone by their heartbreaks and poor romantic choices. Nevertheless there are some protective factors likely to assist young people to negotiate first romantic relationships and survive break-ups.

Early sex education is important, ideally emanating from the home and supported by the school curriculum. It’s a bit late for ‘the talk’ on the eve of a young person’s first date. Education that goes beyond the mechanics of sex and emphasises mutual respect, decision-making and the meaning of consent should help young people to resist relationship bullying and sexual coercion. School and community-based programmes that focus on teaching the characteristics of healthy romantic relationships, recognising gender-based stereotypes, improving conflict-management and communication skills, and decreasing acceptance of partner violence can effectively reduce dating violence in adolescent relationships (Foshee et al., 1998). In addition, parental modelling of respectful interrelationships sets a pattern for young people to aim for in their own interactions.

Family and peer discussions that normalise teenage romantic relations – and breaking up – also help young people to frame their expectations and experiences in context. Some teenagers may need extra encouragement to maintain links with their friends and peer group, and to keep up their sports and hobbies when they are in the throes of an intense romance. But it is important that they do maintain these support links in order to help them resist the kinds of relationships that are too interdependent and have an obsessional quality. When this kind of relationship breaks up, there is a greater risk of distress and depression. Maintaining links with friends provides a distraction from troubles and a sounding board for adolescents to discuss their romantic successes, failures and hopes.

In today’s world, cyber safety is a key issue for all of us, but especially young people. Education about topics such as the potential dangers of sexting, online sexual predators and the distortion of romantic relationships depicted on pornography sites is essential for adolescents. Parental monitoring of online activity, especially among children and younger teenagers, may be advisable, and this requires that parents too become educated in new media – savvy about Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and the like. While adolescents need their privacy, it is important for parents to be watchful for warning signs of obsessive and secretive internet use. The heady emotions of falling in love can lead teenagers into unwise activity; the problem with the internet is that sexts and social media posts can come back to haunt them well after a relationship is over.

In summary, teenagers in love relationships – with all their ups and downs – have the capacity to be growth-promoting, confidence-boosting and healthy experiences that teach young people about the give and take of intimacy. They also provide traps for young players. And while we cannot (and should not) shield the adolescents
in our care from all the hurts and disappointments that life throws up, there are protective factors that limit the likelihood of serious harm from toxic partnerships or distressing break-ups. Watchful, kindly and respectful parenting, strong friendship networks and relationship-oriented sex education can all play their part in helping teenagers in love  enjoy their romantic adventures and learn from them.

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