Loneliness is not only emotionally painful; it can harm your health. It’s a risk factor for a host of problems: high blood pressure; sleep problems; decreased ability to deal with the stress of daily life; and the body’s reduced ability to handle inflammation, leading to conditions such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendinitis, as well as a weakened immune system, so you’re more susceptible to illness. Researchers have yet to identify the exact ways these health problems occur, but they know that loneliness seems to make them worse.

While many of these issues don’t show up until middle age or later, the damage begins early, according to Hawkley. Small increases in stress chemicals released into the bloodstream can, over time, damage blood vessels all over the body.

Of course, some lonely times are inevitable in everyone’s life, and you don’t need to fear them. Think of loneliness as a thirst for companionship, one you can satisfy. Says Hawkley, “It’s a feeling that, if it’s doing its job, it gets you out there to sate that need to feel connected.”

 

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