How does Loneliness Affect your Mental Health?

At some point, we all feel lonely in our lives. Maybe we feel like we cannot connect to people or perhaps, we simply just want more time with ourselves. Often times, we hear why loneliness is not good for us. We may be present in a crowded room and still feel lonely, but how exactly do social interactions influence the way we feel? And is the presence of people around us really that important?

Entertainment industries often depict loneliness as a way of torture. For example: having a character locked up in an empty room for days or even years which eventually makes them go psycho. In the current world we live in, turning psychotic due to loneliness is very unlikely, however, loneliness may affect your mental health in many different ways.

What happens when you feel lonely for a very long time?

Risk of depression and anxiety is something you’ve probably already figured out, but you are also more likely to have panic attacks or paranoia. You will struggle to fall asleep and even if you did manage to do that, you may end up waking up more frequently or sleep for longer duration.

Many people also start experiencing sudden weight loss or weight gain. There is reportedly an increase in alcohol intake, smoking, medications and drugs.


What happens in your body, when you are lonely?

In a study, mice were either housed together or kept isolated, and their reactions were tracked when they were introduced to a new mouse. Mice that were isolated had high activity in the brain region, which motivated them to interact with the new mouse. On the other hand, mice that were already interacting with other mice, showed less interest when the guest arrived.

To test sociability, mice were placed in different chambers, one of the chambers being the ‘social section’. Researchers predicted that, once the mice enter the social section, they would interact with the new mouse, because like us, mice are very social.

However, with the help of Optogenetics, researchers were able to switch on and off the dopaminergic neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus. When these neurons were on, the mice spent more time in the social section of the chamber, showing an increase in motivation to mingle. They would also show an aversive behavior when the mouse was absent in the social section. In another experiment, the mouse avoided the section where it received light stimulation, as it learned to associate light with the feeling of loneliness.

Results of this experiment indicate that, neural connections are excited when they are preceded by social loneliness, which makes them seek the social interaction they need. Researchers concluded that activation of dopaminergic neurons is only necessary for isolated/lonely individuals.

Loneliness is controlled by the brain. Although it is seen as negative, scientists say that loneliness is something we need, to overcome a situation. We can compare loneliness to pain, it tells our body something is wrong. Loneliness cannot really kill you, but if it is not dealt with, it can lead to mental illness, which in turn may lead to unfortunate outcomes.

Edited by: Keerthana Suresh 

Reference ( Featured image) ( content image)


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