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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Does Loneliness Make You Sick?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 1st 2011


lonelyA study recently came out headed by Steven Cole, an associate professor of medicine in the division of Hematology-Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine, and a member of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology that uses science to describe why loneliness may be bad for your health. As it turns out, chronic loneliness puts us at risk for illnesses connected to chronic inflammation like heart disease and certain forms of cancer. How is this possible?


The way this is explained is that people who suffer from chronic loneliness are actually alone more often so the genes that usually guard against viral infections are less active because there is not as much exposure to other people for the viruses to get passed to them. However, the genes that protect against bacteria are more active creating more inflammation.


The truth is, I’m not a molecular scientist, but I find it fascinating that there is an increasing amount of people trying to get to the bottom of loneliness and how we can find ways to curb the adverse health effects of social isolation.


In a way, I kind of see that as a band aid for the greater social dilemma.


This work was recently covered in the Economist where they write, “The lonely are better off ramping up their protection against bacterial infection, which is a bigger relative risk to them.”


How about saying, the lonely are better off ramping up their social resources and connections so that the gene expression changes.


The problem in our current society today is we’ve relegated people to categories or status updates. We no longer see the person who is there as someone who shares the same basic wants and needs as us as human beings, but instead treat them like objects, beeping, swearing, ignoring, or just trying to move past them.


How about creating a greater awareness around the reality of our shared connection as human beings. Might that create some empathy and compassion for the lonely and change the way people reach out?


There is a famous formula that says thoughts create actions and actions create consequences.


If the thought is this person is just a checkout clerk, a bum, a doctor, an elderly person, a teenager or any other category, it’s hard to “see the person.”


What if we changed our thoughts and began to see others as similar to us, wanting to belong, to be accepted, to be loved and understood.


What would change? Might the world be a less lonely place?


As always, please share your thoughts, storied and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.







Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

article needs more information - - Mar 2nd 2011

This article should have some advice for what to do about loneliness. It's not like readers who happen to be lonely already know how to go out and build a social life. That's why they are lonely in the first place. At least put a link to some practical advide.

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