Neuroscientist John Cacioppo says social pain is akin to physical pain. He explores this notion in new book Loneliness, which he co-wrote. He explains how there is a difference between feeling the occasional pang of loneliness when you are alone on a Saturday night to regular chronic loneliness, which does serious damage. Being consistently alone will increase stress levels, higher blood pressure, disrupt sleep patterns, all the way to accelerated dementia and sadly, many pensioners who complain about not seeing enough of their family may end up in this category.
Loneliness also appears to be contagious. A study of 5,000 Massachusetts residents conducted over a 10 year period found that a friend of a lonely person was 52% more likely to develop feeling of social rejection. It even went further than that with one of the friends of the friends being 25% more likely to feel lonely and even a friend of a friend of a friend was at greater risk.
Before this turns into an epidemic, Cacioppo wants to encourage neighbours to try and come into contact with each other on a more frequent basis. The seriously lonely should consider helping other through charity work or by cooking for acquaintances. “When you’re lonely you feel you could just eat other people,” he says. “But the trick is to feed them.”
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