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Chronic Loneliness, Like Stress, Taxes the Immune System

Lonely people produce more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than those who feel socially connected, according to a recent study. In other words, living in a state of loneliness is similar to living in a state of chronic stress.

Of course, we all know that chronic stress is associated with, a number of life-threatening conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lisa Jaremka, of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of this research said, “It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships.”

What is loneliness, really?

I’ve always thought of loneliness as a feeling – a certain pain in the midsection, or a whole body ache that longs for connection.

If we look at loneliness structurally, as we tend to do in NLP, we could define it as 
“distress that results from discrepancies between ideal and perceived social relationships.”

In other words, loneliness has less to do with how socially engaged you are and more to do with how you perceive your relationships. If your relationships are less satisfying that you believe they could or should be, then are you more likely to be lonely.

Now that we’ve entered into the arena of perception, things get interesting.

It now seems possible to experience chronic loneliness regardless of how many friends and associates you have. It is also possible to experience contentment and social satisfaction with a relatively few friends, or theoretically, no friends at all. The bottom line is, if you expect something that you are not getting, you are more likely to feel the lack, or loneliness.

All this supports the case to learn communication skills to strengthen and deepen connections other people. It also seems critical to develop a healthy sense of self – acceptance of your feelings and self-esteem. Without a solid relationship with yourself, no amount of interactions with others will suffice.

It also raises the question, “What are you expecting from others and how likely are those expectations to be met?” The most common unmet relationship expectations in adults appear to be recycled childhood expectations.

For example, should I expect my wife to nurture me even when I am being a jerk? Should I expect my colleagues to respect me even when I chronically underperform? Should my friends still want to be around me after I talk about them behind their back? And so on – these kinds of childish expectations rarely deliver satisfaction and connection.

The bottom line: Should we expect love, respect and connection when we are not offering the same?

These are tough questions. Loneliness is painful. And I am NOT suggesting that loneliness is the fault of the lonely one. I think this one is really worth thinking through and taking as much personal responsibility as possible.

Try on the following questions and leave a comment with your thoughts. If you experience chronic loneliness:

1. On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate your relationship with yourself? If you dislike yourself, you will unwittingly invite others to do the same.

2. Are you self-critical? If so, you unwittingly invite others to think less of you, too.

3. How do others perceive you? If you put yourself in their shoes, do they see someone who is open to connection?

4. How mature are you emotionally? To the degree that you are emotionally regressive, you unwittingly require others to help shoulder your burden.

5. How do you perceive others? Are they people with burdens similar to your own, or do you see them as “problem-free” or having an unfair advantage in life? If so, you will unwittingly push them away.

Again, these are tough questions and they might seem unfair to someone in pain. All of them, however, highlight issues to deal with and point the way toward greater social connection.

Chronic Loneliness, Like Stress, Taxes the Immune System

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2013). Chronic Loneliness, Like Stress, Taxes the Immune System. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Jan 2013
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