So, can being alone seriously damage our health?
The evidence seems to support this hypothesis. A recent study says feeling loneliness for a period of time can raise your risk of early death by a staggering 29% but learning this does not necessarily mean just being alone. Many people have reported they have lots of social interaction, but they still feel inwardly alone. It has been shown men and women are very similar in how they are affected by loneliness, but a surprising statistic that arises is most early deaths through loneliness is in the under 65’s. It seems that stress is the culprit, Our immune systems are far more balanced when we live or are around other people. It sounds like if you’re like me who likes their own space that’s fine but as long as it’s not for too long. Let’s face it, we cannot get away from the fact that we are social animals. Evidence shows that loneliness has a massive impact on our physical body as well as our mental health.
Science has shown that loneliness changes the brain chemistry, it is chemicals such as cortisol which creates a feeling of fear and aggression. A recent study in America said that the majority of Americans feel lonely according to new research. It was thought that loneliness was an old person’s problem, but it seems that was not the case. In a survey, it was found that those between 18 to 22 are the loneliest in America. So, the question that begs to be asked is what is happening in society today, why are there so many people, especially the young, so lonely? I believe the social pressure is put on individuals to achieve more and more often of a material nature, this seems to make people more selfish in their pursuit for more and can lead to comparison, division, and eventually conflict which is making society less caring of the needs of others. We have created a world of everyone for themselves which does not mean a unified society but a separate one.
A group of anthropologists went to a remote village in the Amazon jungle where they were studying for months. The indigenous people of the village had had almost no contact with the outside world. What they found was a very strong sense of bonding and affection within the village, all were included, no one was left out or ostracised or alone. The only hierarchy that was present was the chief but the rest of the people of the village were equal in everything they had and did. This seemed to unite the village, there was literally no crime or disturbances that the chief of the village could not sort out, this was a type of utopia. When the anthropologist left the village, as a gesture they paid the chief a few thousand dollars as a thank you. The chief in his wisdom thought he would distribute the money equally with the families of the village. Within months the village was in turmoil, there had been a murder, violence had increased, some had less money than others, creating division in their community, it was breaking down and with-it unity was lost, and isolation had begun.
So it does seem there is a correlation in society where there is a hierarchical striving for more than the next person, it creates division and a lonely society. So, this got me thinking can we live in a world that is truly competitive but not feel abandoned, isolated, and alone. This form of loneliness can often lead to mental and physical illness leading to an early grave. This dilemma led me to research and look into those individuals who purposely isolate themselves.
When I studied many of these individuals and it ran into the hundreds who seemed to have spent long periods of time on their own, the data that I’ve just spoken about did not seem to affect them. In fact, it had the opposite effect on their life and they often went into old age content, happy and with no mental and physical health issues. So, if this was true and it seemed to be the case, what was the magical ingredient that these individuals seemed to have but to be elusive to society today.
Through studying these individuals, it seems that a very high proportion of these people often lived well into old age but then I found out there was one thing that joined them all together, they practiced something called meditation. So, I needed to look into what happens in our brain when we meditate and what I found was truly astonishing. People who regularly meditate seem to have a variety of neurological benefits from changes in their grey matter volume, to reduced activity in the ‘me’ centres in the brain. The question to ask yourself is what are the ‘me’ centres which seem to be very active in society today. The ‘me’ centres are thinking only of the self, striving for more.
Meditators in studies have shown they reduce activities in these ‘me’ centres of the brain which is the part of our brain where we think purely of the self and how we can have more. It’s generally all about me! Furthermore, when we meditate this seems to create a chemical change within the brain and releases a chemical called serotonin, commonly known as the happy chemical, but the interesting thing is it also reduces cortisol. This chemical cortisol is responsible for the feelings of anger and aggression which leads apparently to an earlier death when we are also alone for long periods.
Would I be presumptuous in thinking that I have found the magic pill? If you find yourself alone and don’t want to be affected adversely it seems meditation is the key. Scientific studies have shown over and over again it will reduce the negative chemicals in your body and brain which have been linked to contributing and leading up to an early grave in conjunction with extended periods of loneliness in our life.
More research is obviously needed in the subject. In my research, It showed that those people who meditate considerably reduce their suffering if they are alone. So in the meantime, if you find yourself lonely cover your bets and start to meditate, just in case I’m right!