Is Loneliness as Harmful as Smoking?

Is Loneliness as Harmful as Smoking?© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Are you one of those people who dreads Valentine’s Day every year? According to a recent podcast by, that type of attitude may be making you sick.

Plus: 20 Simple Ways to Get Happy writer Greg Miller reports on research that suggests social isolation may make people more prone to infections, heart disease, and depression. In fact, a recent study suggests “that being socially isolated gives you about the same risk, health risk, as being a smoker in terms of your longevity.”

Even if you have lots of friends, the simple practice of dwelling on the fact that you’re alone could be harmful to your health. The problem isn’t the “periodic bouts of loneliness that people experience,” such as a breakup or a friend moving away, writes Miller. What is most harmful is ” feeling like they have no one that they can turn to.”

What to do? Researchers at the University of Chicago suggest that people “remain open and available to the people around you. And it’s something that sounds really simple, but it’s not always easy.”

This Valentine’s Day:

1. Make plans to meet a good friend and remember how lucky you are to have caring people in your life.

2. If you’re feeling alone and your health is at stake, seek therapy.

3. Even if you’re attached, remember that someone else may need you and that they are reaching out for a reason. Don’t forget to be there.

A special note to parents:

Studies suggest college freshmen “are actually among the loneliest people that have been studied because, even though they’re surrounded by people their own age, they’ve left all of their high school friends and their parents and their family behind.” Be sure to check in with your child or loved one often. Let him know you are there to listen, even if he says he’s fine.


Plus: The Reader’s Digest Version of Joy

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