Isolation Is Killing You

Isolation Is Killing You

There are a lot of perks to going it alone sometimes, but true isolation is becoming a deadly epidemic, especially for middle-aged men. But the loneliness that often comes hand-in-hand with the trials of modern living don’t have to be a death sentence.

Photo by Hernán Piñera.

The Power Of Going It Alone

I like doing things alone -- eating dinner, playing games, seeing movies -- but for some, the idea seems depressing, sad or only for people with no one to be with. That's nonsense. Doing things alone develops self-sufficiency, gives you time for honest reflection and forces you to learn to like yourself a little -- or at least figure out why you don't.

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Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with major negative health effects in study after study, leading some researchers to consider long-term isolation to be just as bad for longevity as smoking cigarettes. There are also links to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s. And one recent study found that merely living alone can increase the risk of premature death by a whopping six per cent. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy even goes as far as saying that isolation is the most common disease in the US.

The problem is, as Billy Baker explained so eloquently at the Boston Globe, we’re not very good at admitting when we’re lonely — or even realising it. Baker spoke with Dr Richard S. Schwartz, a Cambridge psychiatrist, to see what could be done, and it’s an easier fix than you might expect. For starters, you have to take a look at your life and admit that you’re feeling lonely. This isn’t easy, Schwartz explains, because we’re afraid it makes us sound like losers, but it’s vital. Do you maintain contact with people you consider friends? Do you carve out time to be with people you care about? Do all of your social interactions take place on social media?

Loneliness Is A Signal, Not Just A Feeling

When you feel lonely, it's hard to get past the sadness and pain that comes with it. But feeling lonely is actually perfectly healthy. It's your mind's way of telling you it's time to make a change.

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Once you’ve established something is amiss, your loneliness should be a call to action. Reconnect with your old friends, and consider connecting with acquaintances. If you need new friends, make an effort to go find them. Take classes at the gym, try your hand at improv, talk to people after religious gatherings, join a sports league, or start taking your dog to the park.

Once you’ve re-established connections, come up with an activity you can do with your group of friends in person. This is especially helpful if you’re a man, since Schwartz says women tend to be better at staying in touch by other means. Meeting once every couple of months for a drink isn’t enough, so choose something you can do a couple of times a month with some regularity. I personally recommend gathering friends around a table for role-playing games or board games. Whatever you choose, make it part of your schedule so you can plan other things around it, and your family always knows when it is. Isolation will only kill you if you let it.


  • One more thing slowly killing me to worry about, then.

    Also this article makes it seem like it’s super easy to deal with – if it was, it wouldn’t be such an issue.

    • i was thinking the same thing. i live on a subdivided block with a common driveway and i freak out with social anxiety thinking about walking past my two neighbours houses to take the bins out.

      • I can absolutely relate to this. I get super nervous even just putting my bins out or going to the mailbox. My neighbours have never said hello or anything either so it’s not that I’m unfriendly, they just keep to themselves and I keep to myself.

        I’m also living by myself in the US right now, and dealing with a lot of these sorts of issues coupled with the fact that I’m not getting the amount of sunlight my body’s used to (just bought a full-spectrum lamp to hopefully help with that) and the bigger issue which is that I haven’t got permanent residency over here yet, so I don’t want to put down major roots in case I have to leave and go back to Australia again (not fair on me or the people I leave behind otherwise).

  • The Turnbull government is stripping the “free” health care system right down. Another term will see us all having only private health care. I am a pensioner and recently had an MRI. The local public hospital said they couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the money to buy a new machine. My MRI needed the latest technology. I had to travel 100km to a private hospital and pay $570.00 to get the MRI done. This is the free health care system we don’t have!

  • But is it really loneliness that kills people or the side effects such as depression or a more sedentary lifestyle?

    • Lonliness is a trigger for those things, the cause. Depression may be one of the symptoms. There is an inbuilt desire in all human beings to be loved, to have connection and relationship. So if you look at it like that, you could easily say the lonliness does indeed kill people.

  • We’ve lost our villages, our tribes. We used to live in big groups, eat together, work together and sleep together. Kids were looked after by everyone. The sick and elderly were cared for. We celebrated together and cried together.

    Now there’s millions of us living alone next to each other, and it’s possible to go for days or weeks at a time without even touching another person. That sort of isolation will make you sick eventually, one way or the other.

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