Loneliness is one of those feelings that we wish we could erase from our emotional vocabulary. No wonder, because the inner emptiness coupled with insecurity and a constant feeling of anxiety can become chronic in an emergency – and make us permanently ill. And that’s not all: the World Health Organization (WHO) is now pointing out the health consequences of loneliness in the light of a new study.

People without social contacts are at a higher risk of strokes, anxiety disorders, dementia, depression and suicide, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the relevant press conference. The risk of premature death for lonely people is as high as or higher than the risk of death from tobacco use, obesity or air pollution. A study from last year also showed that loneliness could make us age faster:

The company “Deep Longevity” actually develops calculation models for biological age. This gave it, among other things, access to data from 12,000 people from a Chinese aging study – and also re-evaluated it in the context of loneliness.

The result: Those who feel lonely or unhappy have a higher biological age. Specifically, psychological factors increase biological age by up to 1.65 years. Loneliness and grief make us age faster than, for example, smoking.

There are currently around 23 million smokers living in Germany. In comparison, the number of people affected by loneliness is relatively small – it is estimated to be just under 15 percent, and for people over 80 it is 20 percent. But: while the number of smokers is falling, loneliness is increasing, worldwide. Reason enough for the WHO to intensify efforts to combat the phenomenon. A corresponding new commission will develop plans over the next three years on how social contacts can be promoted in countries of all income levels.

But where does the increasing loneliness actually come from? There are many theories about this. One thing is certain: loneliness is the result of several factors, like many other psychological problems and negative feelings. In addition to digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic, both of which have caused alienation on a human level, there are several general risk factors for loneliness.

Our origins: Yes, our parents not only give us genes that can affect our loneliness, but also teach us how relationships with other people work. If we don’t receive any basic trust from our parents, then we often find it difficult to really let other people get close to us, even as adults. And if you don’t really trust anyone, you’ll get lonely more quickly.

Our social status: Unemployment and inability to work can demonstrably lead to loneliness. On the one hand, this is because those affected have fewer opportunities for social and cultural participation. On the other hand, losing a job is often accompanied by a loss of self-esteem. This in turn makes it harder to meet new people.

Our age: Loneliness can basically affect anyone. But statistically speaking, older people in particular feel lonely. Recent surveys also show that the younger generation is also increasingly complaining about loneliness. However, the causes could hardly be more different: In the first case, health reasons play the main role. And the focus on social media is noticeable among young people.

If you want to prevent loneliness, you should pay particular attention to healthy social relationships – according to science, just one caregiver is enough. But what if you already feel lonely? In this case, researchers have developed the “EASE” concept.

E for expansion of the radius of action

A for activity

S like selecting contacts

E for Expect the Best!

If you want to beat loneliness, you should think outside the box and try something new. This could be, for example, a club or volunteer work. Or you can simply step out of your comfort zone and talk to friendly strangers.

It’s also worth checking existing contacts carefully: Are these people really good for me or are they just acquaintances that drain energy? Loneliness does not always arise from the lack of a social environment, but from the lack of real human connections.

Last but not least, your own attitude plays an important role in overcoming loneliness. If when I interact with other people I expect that they only want good things from me, then they will treat me differently than if I assume the worst. Do not you believe? It’s worth trying out!

Source: Study by “Deep Longevity” on the impact of loneliness on our biological age, study on the health risks of loneliness,