The Health Consequences of Loneliness (2023)

Loneliness is a universal human emotion that is both complex and unique to each individual. Because it has no single common cause, the prevention and treatment of this potentially damaging state of mind can vary dramatically.

For example, a lonely child who struggles to make friends at school has different needs than a lonely older adult whose spouse has recently died.

This article discusses what we mean by the term "lonely," as well as the various causes, health consequences, symptoms, and potential treatments for loneliness.

The Health Consequences of Loneliness (1)

Definition of Loneliness

While common definitions of loneliness describe it as a state of solitude or being alone, loneliness is actually a state of mind. Loneliness causes people to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.

Researchers suggest that loneliness is associated with social isolation, poor social skills, introversion, and depression.

Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind.

For example, a college freshman might feel lonely despite being surrounded by roommates and other peers. A soldier beginning their military career might feel lonely after being deployed to a foreign country, despite being constantly surrounded by other troop members.

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Loneliness vs. Solitude

While research clearly shows that loneliness and isolation are bad for both mental and physical health, being alone is not the same as being lonely. In fact, solitude actually has a number of important mental health benefits, including allowing people to better focus and recharge.

  • Loneliness is marked by feelings of isolation despite wanting social connections. It is often perceived as an involuntary separation, rejection, or abandonment by other people.
  • Solitude, on the other hand, is voluntary. People who enjoy spending time by themselves continue to maintain positive social relationships that they can return to when they crave connection. They still spend time with others, but these interactions are balanced with periods of time alone.


Loneliness is a state of mind linked to wanting human contact but feeling alone. People can be alone and not feel lonely, or they can have contact with people and still experience feelings of isolation.

Things To Do By Yourself

Causes of Loneliness

Contributing factors to loneliness include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, and divorce. The death of someone significant in a person's life can also lead to feelings of loneliness.

Additionally, it can be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression. Depression often causes people to withdrawal socially, which can lead to isolation. Research also suggests that loneliness can be a factor that contributes to symptoms of depression.

Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem. People who lack confidence in themselves often believe that they are unworthy of the attention or regard of other people, which can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.

Personality factors may also play a role. Introverts, for example, might be less likely to cultivate and seek social connections, which can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

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Health Risks Associated With Loneliness

Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health, including:

  • Alcohol and drug misuse
  • Altered brain function
  • Alzheimer's disease progression
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Decreased memory and learning
  • Depression and suicide
  • Increased stress levels
  • Poor decision-making

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

These are not the only areas in which loneliness takes its toll. For example, lonely adults get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing lonely people to premature aging.

What Research Suggests About Loneliness

People who feel less lonely are more likely to be married, have higher incomes, and have higher educational status. High levels of loneliness are associated with physical health symptoms, living alone, small social networks, and low-quality social relationships.

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Close Friends Help Combat Loneliness

Statistics suggest that loneliness is becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly in younger generations. According to one 2019 survey, 25% of adults between the ages of 18 and 27 reported having no close friends, while 22% reported having no friends at all.

The rise of the internet and ironically, social media, arepartially to blame.

Experts believe that it is not the quantity of social interaction that combats loneliness, but the quality.

Having a few close friends is enough to ward off loneliness and reduce the negative health consequences associated with this state of mind. Research suggests that the experience of actual face-to-face contact with friends helps boost people's sense of well-being.

Loneliness Can Be Contagious

One study suggests that loneliness may actually be contagious. Research has found that non-lonely people who spend time with lonely people are more likely to develop feelings of loneliness.

The Impact of Social Isolation on Mental Health

Tips to Prevent and Overcome Loneliness

Loneliness can be overcome. It does require a conscious effort to make a change. In the long run, making a change can make you happier, healthier, and enable you to impact others around you in a positive way.

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Here are some ways to prevent loneliness:

  • Consider community service or another activity that you enjoy. These situations present great opportunities to meet people and cultivate new friendships and social interactions.
  • Expect the best. Lonely people often expect rejection, so instead, try focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes in your social relationships.
  • Focus on developing quality relationships. Seek people who share similar attitudes, interests, and values with you.
  • Recognize that loneliness is a sign that something needs to change. Don't expect things to change overnight, but you can start taking steps that will help relieve your feelings of loneliness and build connections that support your well-being.
  • Understand the effects of loneliness on your life. There are physical and mental repercussions to loneliness. If you recognize some of these symptoms affecting how you feel, make a conscious effort to combat them.
  • Join a group or start your own. For example, you might try creating a Meetup group where people from your area with similar interests can get together. You might also consider taking a class at a community college, joining a book club, or taking an exercise class.
  • Strengthen a current relationship. Building new connections is important, but improving your existing relationships can also be a great way to combat loneliness. Try calling a friend or family member you have spoken to in a while.
  • Talk to someone you can trust. Reaching out to someone in your life to talk about what you are feeling is important. This can be someone you know such as a family member, but you might also consider talking to your doctor or a therapist. Online therapy can be a great option because it allows you to contact a therapist whenever it is convenient for you.


Loneliness can leave people feeling isolated and disconnected from others. It is a complex state of mind that can be caused by life changes, mental health conditions, poor self-esteem, and personality traits. Loneliness can also have serious health consequences including decreased mental wellness and physical problems.

Ways to Cope With Loneliness

A Word From Verywell

Loneliness can have a serious effect on your health, so it is important to be able to recognize signs that you are feeling lonely. It is also important to remember that being alone isn't the same as being lonely.

If loneliness is affecting your well-being, there are things that you can do that can help you form new connections and find the social support that you need. Work on forming new connections and spend some time talking to people in your life. If you're still struggling, consider therapy. Whatever you choose to do, just remember that there are peoplewho can help.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares ways to stay strong even if you feel lonely.

The Health Consequences of Loneliness (2)

(Video) 3 ways loneliness impacts your health

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What are the three major health consequences of loneliness? ›

Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Why does loneliness affect physical health? ›

It could lead to weight gain, sleep deprivation, poor heart health, and a weakened immune system. Loneliness can also put your body under more stress than normal. An increased amount of stress can increase blood pressure and affect your memory and problem-solving skills.

How does your body react to loneliness? ›

What happens to your body when you're lonely? “When you're experiencing loneliness, your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, go up,” she says. “Cortisol can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase your risk for vascular problems, inflammation and heart disease.”

What does loneliness do to the human brain? ›

"Loneliness can change the neurochemistry of the brain, turning off the dopamine neurons, which trigger the reward response, and causing some degeneration in the brain when the reward response is not activated," says Katherine Peters, MD, PhD, FAAN, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Duke University.

What happens when you're lonely for too long? ›

Long term feelings of loneliness and social isolation can also reduce cognitive skills, such as the ability to concentrate, make decisions, problem-solve, and even change negative self-beliefs. And it can ultimately lead to depression.

What are 5 effects of loneliness? ›

Feeling lonely can also have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if these feelings have lasted a long time. Some research suggests that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.

How is loneliness destructive to the mind and body? ›

The Physiological Effects of Loneliness

Loneliness is also associated with problematic changes in the cardiovascular, hormonal and immune systems. The result is a chronic counterproductive inflammatory state which damages the heart, reduces one's capacity to resist infection and promotes loss of bone and muscle.

How do you cure deep loneliness? ›

How to Deal with Loneliness: 5 Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely
  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings of Loneliness. ...
  2. Know When to Engage or Disengage From the Online World. ...
  3. Find a Volunteer Opportunity as a Way to Feel Less Lonely. ...
  4. Join a Group or Club to Overcome Loneliness With In-Person Connections. ...
  5. Practice Self-Care.

What are the effects of not socializing? ›

Hawkley points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.

Where is loneliness held in the body? ›

Your nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode, making it harder to sleep. When you're lonely, research shows that your brain can produce an excess of norepinephrine, a hormone that's a crucial “signal during the fight or flight response.” Loneliness can feel, to our social selves, like dire straits.

How does loneliness shorten life? ›

Biologists have shown that feelings of loneliness trigger the release of stress hormones that in turn are associated with higher blood pressure, decreased resistance to infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

What happens to your brain when you don't socialize? ›

PREFRONTAL CORTEX: In some studies, people who are lonely have been found to have reduced brain volumes in the prefrontal cortex, a region important in decision making and social behavior, although other research suggests this relationship might be mediated by personality factors.

Why is loneliness so powerful? ›

When you feel lonely, you get more defensive. You focus more on self-preservation even though this is not done intentionally. Completely unbeknownst to you, your brain is focusing more on self-preservation than the preservation of those around you. This, in turn, can make you less pleasant to be around.

Can humans survive without social interaction? ›

Can someone survive with no human interaction? Yes once you can feed yourself and clean yourself you could Infact live completely alone though loneliness could drive you insane but you can't miss what you didn't have to begin with.

Can loneliness be traumatic? ›

These feelings of loneliness may ultimately lead to posttraumatic stress symptoms via a number of pathways. For example, loneliness may lead to the development of negative cognitions (Cacioppo and Hawkley, 2009), which can predict future PTSD symptoms and impact PTSD treatment (Brown et al., 2019).

Is it OK to be lonely for a long time? ›

If feelings of loneliness linger, it may be a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Also consider getting help if: feelings of loneliness negatively affect your daily life or make it hard to do the things you want to do. you have a low mood or feelings of depression.

What happens to people with no friends? ›

A lack of close friends and a dearth of broader social contact generally bring the emotional discomfort or distress known as loneliness. It begins with an awareness of a deficiency of relationships. This cognitive awareness plays through our brain with an emotional soundtrack. It makes us sad.

What are the roots of loneliness? ›

Contributing factors to loneliness include situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, and divorce. 2 The death of someone significant in a person's life can also lead to feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem.

What is the number one cause of loneliness? ›

The most prevalent cause for loneliness was feeling disconnected. Many young adults spoke about being lonely because they felt unable to express themselves, their feelings or talk about their issues. They also talked about being lonely due to feeling they did not matter to others and were not understood.

What age is most affected by loneliness? ›

40% of respondents aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely often or very often, while only 29% of people aged 65-74 and 27% of people aged over 75 said the same6.

What age group is the most lonely? ›

Young people feel loneliness the most

However, in contrast, the young report feeling lonely much more – with 40% saying they have felt this way at least some of the time. The BBC Loneliness Experiment surveyed 55,000 people and showed that 16–24-year-olds feel loneliness the most.

Why is loneliness so painful? ›

It is not surprising that loneliness hurts. A brain imaging study showed that feeling ostracized actually activates our neural pain matrix. In fact, several studies show that ostracizing others hurts us as much as being ostracized ourselves.

What does psychology say about loneliness? ›

People describe thoughts and feelings of loneliness with words like anxiety, fear, shame and helplessness. These powerful emotions can influence how we act. They can create a downward spiral where loneliness causes someone to withdraw further from family and friends and so become lonelier.

How to turn loneliness into happiness? ›

Examples might be: Play or listen to music, write, work or study, exercise, walk, work on a hobby and/or read. Being comfortable when you are alone takes time, but it will come. Think of it as being with yourself instead of being without someone.

How do you break the cycle of loneliness? ›

11 things to do if you're feeling lonely
  1. Start with small talk. Small talk gets a bad wrap, but it's actually a big part of helping break the ice. ...
  2. Hang out with like-minded people. ...
  3. Get active. ...
  4. Jump online. ...
  5. Give 'yes' a go. ...
  6. Back yourself to fly solo. ...
  7. Sit with the feeling of loneliness. ...
  8. Write it down.

What are 6 ways to cope with loneliness? ›

Coping strategies if you're experiencing loneliness
  • Acknowledge what you're feeling. ...
  • Make use of your time. ...
  • Make connections with others. ...
  • Use peer support groups. ...
  • Prioritize self-care. ...
  • Consider therapy.
Feb 8, 2023

What are three major cause risk factors for loneliness? ›

Research suggests that several risk factors may increase a person's risk of becoming isolated or lonely. These include mental or physical health conditions, low education or income, and social factors (eg, unmarried, living alone).

What are the three stages of loneliness? ›

Understand these three stages to realize that loneliness is only a state of mind, and it's easy to embrace it and overcome loneliness if you try.
  • The three stages of understanding and dealing with loneliness. ...
  • Stage #1 Self-Care. ...
  • Stage #2 Self-Improvement. ...
  • Stage #3 Finding Connections Again.

What are the three dimensions of loneliness? ›

289). Three dimensions of loneliness were identified, namely intensity (i.e. nature and magnitude of social isolation), time perspective (i.e. changeability of loneliness) and emotional characteristics (i.e. absence of positive feelings).

What is the root cause of loneliness? ›

What causes loneliness? There is not one single cause of loneliness. Loneliness can often be a result of life changes or circumstances that include living alone, changing your living arrangements, having financial problems, or death of a loved one.

What is toxic loneliness? ›

Loneliness is toxic

Loneliness has clear consequences for mental health, aggravating anxiety, depression, and stress-related symptoms. Additionally, it sabotages our physical health. According to two leading researchers, loneliness triggers an inflammatory response and threatens our immune system.

What is stage 4 of loneliness? ›

Stage 4: Depression. The despair of loneliness is an all-encompassing emotion.

At what age does loneliness peak? ›

Some studies show a linear decline, some an inverted U-pattern (peaking in middle age), and others a U-pattern (peaking in early and late adulthood). Our previous study found that loneliness was highest in the late 20s, mid-50s, and late 80s.

How do you recover from deep loneliness? ›

If you want to know what to do when you feel lonely, consider these 5 tips:
  1. Acknowledge Your Feelings of Loneliness. ...
  2. Know When to Engage or Disengage From the Online World. ...
  3. Find a Volunteer Opportunity as a Way to Feel Less Lonely. ...
  4. Join a Group or Club to Overcome Loneliness With In-Person Connections. ...
  5. Practice Self-Care.

How do lonely people behave? ›

When someone feels lonely they are more likely to try to distract themselves with the other things in their lives. So if your colleague is always talking about their stamp collection, or always flying away on exotic solo city breaks rather than spending weekends at home, they might be feeling alone.

What is traumatic loneliness? ›

Childhood trauma can lead to loneliness in adulthood because of the way it impacts your social interactions and ability to form meaningful connections. According to a 2018 study, people who had experienced childhood or adulthood trauma reported higher loneliness-related distress than those without a trauma history.

What are the 4 types of loneliness? ›

Loneliness affects people in different ways, and for this reason there are four distinct types of loneliness identified by psychologists: emotional, social, situational and chronic.


1. The Health Effects of Loneliness
(Radio Health Journal)
2. The Health Impact of Loneliness: Emerging Evidence and Interventions
3. What Loneliness Does to Your Brain
(Kevin Shen)
4. Loneliness: Simple steps to avoid the serious health consequences of loneliness
(REBT Education and Training)
5. The Health Effects of Loneliness in Our Communities: Presentation at Be The Connection
(#ClackCo TV)
6. The effects of loneliness and social isolation With Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad
(A Second Opinion Podcast)
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