Smoking and obesity have long been thought of as serious health risks. But a new study suggests that loneliness is a greater risk to your health than either smoking or obesity. And you might be surprised to learn which generation is considered….the loneliest.
At a time when we’re supposedly more connected than ever, there are an awful lot of lonely people.
“Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out,” according to a new survey from health company Cigna. One out of five Americans has no person they can talk to.
And the loneliest generation? That would be Generation Z, defined in this survey as those 18 to 22. Their average loneliness score is nearly 10 points higher than the least lonely generation — the Greatest Generation, those 72 and older.
Before you point that finger at social media as the primary cause of the disconnect, researchers say that may not be the case. CBS News quoted Douglas Nemecek, M.D., chief medical officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna, as saying, “We hear all the time about social media and being connected. What our study actually found, however, is that the level of attachment with social media really did not impact loneliness one way or the other,” Nemecek explained. “What that means really is that I could have a thousand or ten thousand friends on Facebook, but it’s the meaningful in-person relationships that I have with other people that actually keep me from becoming lonely.”
NPR.org pointed out the potential ramifications loneliness can have on people.
Several studies in recent years, including ones by Holt-Lunstad, have documented the public health effect of loneliness. It has been linked with a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. It has been shown to influence our genes and our immune systems, and even recovery from breast cancer.
And there is growing evidence that loneliness can kill. “We have robust evidence that it increases risk for premature mortality,” says Holt-Lunstad. Studies have found that it is a predictor of premature death, not just for the elderly, but even more so for younger people.
So, what can be done to help battle the loneliness blues? CNN.com put together, what it called, seven simple ways to cope.
- Practice small talk with cashiers and the other people you encounter throughout your day
- Get comfortable with your own company
- One thing to remember in our age of instant gratification is that friends aren’t found; instead, friends are made — crafted, really — over time
- Work simultaneously on connecting in meaningful ways with the outside world while connecting with the lonely part inside
- Identify why you’re lonely
- Consider how your immediate and extended families are a resource to you
- Embrace who you are
We’d love to hear what you think about this new research and whether you have any additional ideas that may help people who are struggling with loneliness. Working together with our partners to find solutions to the health issues facing the people of our state is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!