Can Being Alone Literally Break Your Heart?
“Being without company; cut off from other; not frequented by human beings, sad from being alone; producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia Definitions
Is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connectedness or community with other beings, both in the present and extending in the future. As such, loneliness can be felt even while surrounded by other people. The causes of loneliness are varied and include social, mental, emotional, and spiritual factors.
Is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels (arteries, capillaries and veins).
Resources: en.wikipedia.org; Bradford Health Systems
I will be the first to admit that I love being alone at times with my own thoughts and just spending time doing what it is I love to do all by myself. All of us need that special, quiet and reflective time alone.
However, there is a big difference in being alone with one’s own thoughts and social isolation, which leads to loneliness.
When I think of social isolation, well, my dad comes to mind after he returned from the wars. He not only suffered, but we, his family suffered too, in silence, which led to pretty much our whole family living in almost complete isolation. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and used alcohol to cope. PTSD was not talked about back then, as it is in today's world, and really he was left to fight his demons on his own.
The effects of social isolation are very harmful to the heart. Researchers have found that feeling alone may hurt the heart, even more than being alone. This hub will only address the effects of loneliness as relates solely to heart health, being February is HEART Month.
Chronic loneliness is a very serious life-threatening condition, especially for those who hide their loneliness from the outside world, and studies have shown it to also be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Boy, does this fact hit home with me, especially, being the oldest of three siblings, I remembered being too ashamed and feeling that our family was so different than all other families, that I really isolated myself from the world during this time because I never really knew when my dad was going to be on one of his bad spells of drinking (his way of coping with PTSD and his demons).
My dad died of a stroke way back in 1989. My mother lived to be 84.
I surely did not understand his condition at the time, i.e., the disease of addiction, and our family never hearing of PTSD, as they do nowadays. Well, if they did, our family never knew of such. I remember just tuning everything out and focusing on being the best student in school, with the best grades ever, to try to hide the issue (the untrue issue) that there was not one thing wrong with my family. I learned much later that when one person in the family has the disease of addiction, then the whole family is actually sick.
I did not learn of such until my very own son, at an early age, did receive the help he needed through Bradford Health Systems, where, we, as the family were informed of this terrible disease and its toll it takes on each family member. We learned that each family member takes on a different role in order to cope, and the oldest sibling (me) would take on the role, that there was not one thing at all wrong with our family.
I remember thinking, when the Bradford's staff was talking about the whole family being sick, of my youth with my dad, and how I would put on, that there is nothing wrong with our family. That is the very thing the professionals at Bradford were saying. I then, understood myself a lot better after that fact was revealed to me. They explained each role each family member takes on, and I can see how it applied to my brother, the second child, and my two sisters. We each really did take on different roles in coping with being apart of this horrible disease of addiction.
Read Jodah's Wonderful Hub on Loneliness
- The Causes of Loneliness and How to Cope
It is often said that with all the improved communications like the Internet and social media, fast news services etc, that the world is getting smaller. If so, why are we getting lonelier?
They said that the first child (me), is one who is an over-achiever, and will go out of his or her way to make sure that the world sees there is not one thing abnormal about their family, by such over-achieving. I was the one who made the National Honor Society in school. I was the one who all the teachers would say great things about later to my other siblings, much to my surprise for I always considered myself to be an introvert. Back then, they did not call it being an introvert, but just being shy. At the time, I did not know it, but they all thought I was just book smart and kept to myself due to wanting to study, study study. Actually, that was a great escape for me, reading and studying. At the young age of 25, I was placed on high blood pressure medicine, as is most of my family.
I remember not ever inviting any of my friends over for fear of my dad possibly having a PTSD episode.
My brother, who is just one year younger than I, is so very brilliant and a Planetary Geologist today. We thought back in high school he was going to drop out, but I believe it was due to our environment and he being so bored with his high IQ.
Our sweet mother, was far ahead of her time, and well-educated, and contributed much to who we are today. I praise Him for blessing us with the sweetest, strongest and most courageous woman I have ever known to this date.
According to Bradford, each child played a different role, the younger ones, being more rebellious and such.
Our mother's strength and wisdom, still provides a great backbone to this day, as I remembering her understanding our dad's sickness, where we would just continue to ask ourselves the question of, why us? Why cannot we be like other families, not knowing other families were suffering with the same disease, taking its toll. My dad had heart disease, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and whatever else, you name it. And I believe it was due to his self-isolation from the world after his retirement from serving his country. He was never truly the same after returning from the wars.
I remember my mother reading to me from Psalms. Throughout my childhood, I could feel the presence of the Lord, which comforted me greatly and gave me much peace.
Speaking for myself, and all my other siblings, we turned out great. It wasn't until the age of 30, that the Lord revealed to me that I was not living as He created me to be, and that I had a voice. He did not create me to be isolated from the world, and once I realized that, I became the person I am today. Now, I am truly free to be me and I have found my voice, speaking what He would have me to say . . . in other words, living the life He had planned for me all along. Those who know me now, have a very hard time believing I was ever an introvert or very shy.
Surprisingly, even though depression and anxiety can have a negative impact on one’s heart, loneliness appears to be especially deadly!
When one feels that one has no one to turn to and no one who understands (hence, loneliness), then it becomes a form of stress. If such stress becomes chronic, it can damage one’s blood vessels and heart. I know the loneliness my dad felt, and I believe it ultimately led to his death at age 62.
The reason the heart is damaged so much by this, is that lonely people have much higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is released in response to stress. Back in the early 1990s, Swedish researchers studied approximately 1,300 patients, who were about to undergo heart bypass surgery. What they found was disturbing---those patients who said they were lonely were 2.5 times more likely to die within 30 days after having their surgery.
When one remains in a stressful state, the cardiovascular system is harmed. Such stress, as is produced by loneliness, makes it difficult for blood to move through the arteries, which over time can contribute to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
Limiting loneliness is oh so critical, especially if one is at risk for heart disease. Please consider seeking the help of a mental health professional, who can assess your stress level, if you or a loved one has a heart condition. Or better than that, call upon the Great Physician, as I do, as He really does hear!
One never knows what others are going through, and unless they step out in faith and belong to a group, to share and discuss such issues, praying for each other and seeking wise counsel, in other words breaking that cycle of isolation, they may never truly be set free from those chains that bind.
Life is way too short to live in such isolation, when He created us to be connected to human contact, but make sure it is good company you are keeping!
One of my favorite alternative approaches:
Another great treatment for loneliness is pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy. It seems that, as studies have shown, and evidence provided by volunteer and community organizations, that the presence of animals can ease the feelings of loneliness in some.
We all love our pets and the unconditional love they provide!
Reference: Behavioral Health Systems, Inc.
Treatments and Prevention
There are so much varied and effective treatments for loneliness or social isolation, but I have my preferred treatment, and that is through the help of the Great Physician and the Great Counselor, the Lord God.
What the real deal for me, personally, is having that intimate personal relationship with the Lord God, in whom I place my full hope, faith and trust.
I know without a doubt, if God had not restored me, I may not be here this day.
Remember is it impossible to be miserable at the same time one is LAUGHING.
Remember you are ALIVE, and it is something to be thankful for everyday, so please do not take it for granted!
Remember to be a part of something, a group, and you will realize you are a part of something GREATER THAN YOURSELF!
Remember to always to be THANKFUL for the wonderful things already in your life.
Remember to LOVE, enough said!
Psalm 25: 16-21 (NIV)
"Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me! Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you."