As Andy Williams sang, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For me, it’s my time for social isolation.
Where outside of holiday festivities, it’s the time of year where “me time” gets priority over social engagements and I remain in my own quiet cocoon until Spring shines through.
As previously discussed here, winter is not the most peachy time of year for me and many others. My energy levels become incredibly low and limited due to the shorter days and my pesky sleep disorder, thus, greatly affecting my mood and behavior.
Nobody wants to hang around a moody b*tch amirite?
So herein begins: hibernation mode.
However recently, I came to find that this very behavior could potentially kill me.
Ah yes, science never ceases to amuse me with their interesting findings:
Social isolation and loneliness CAN kill you.
There are two notable studies that were done recently, I’ll cover them shortly, but both came to similar conclusions: social isolation and loneliness have grave impact on longevity.
With more Americans living alone now and with the dependency on technology (texting/social media); it makes it easier to avoid relationship building³. Probably why it was found that the risk for mortality increases for young populations more so than older ones.
We’re heavily dependent on our technological gizmos.
These current technology and housing trends have increased the risk of loneliness.
We have the highest rate of living solo on the planet since… ever!
The lack of social connections presents added risk of mortality. The state of loneliness and social isolation is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, it even surpasses the risk of obesity!
The existence of relationships provide several positive effects: it improves health, helps us manage stress better, improves immune system functionality, and gives our lives meaning.
The first study that I stumbled across was by the University College London, they studied 6,500 men and women age 52 and older². Specifically, they found that while loneliness hurts; isolation can kill you. Even still, while each of these increased mortality rates when combined they proved to pose the greatest risk
Andrew Steptoe, a Professor of Psychology at the University College London, had this to say in regards to the study:
At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared.
If you’re thinking, “Well, I’m in great health and physical shape” or “I am financially stable and well-off” so I’ll be okay.
It was still found that regardless of income or health status, people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die.
A second study was done by Brigham Young University, in which they analyzed data from a variety of studies that included data on loneliness, social isolation, and living alone¹. Overall, they examined a combined population sample of 3 Million participants. They identified loneliness as the next public health issue on par with obesity and substance abuse.
Per the results of the study:
♣The subjective feeling of loneliness increased the risk of death by 26%
♣The combination of social isolation – lacking social connections – AND living alone had more severe consequences increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%
Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study, noted that:
The researchers emphasized the difference between the subjective, self-reported feeling of loneliness and the objective state of being socially isolated. Both are potentially damaging, the study found. People who say they are alone but feel happy are at increased risk of death, as are those who have many social connections but say they are lonely. People who are both objectively isolated and subjectively lonely may be at the greatest risk of death.
This all goes right back to the simple fact that we ARE indeed social creatures that are interdependent on one another. Just because I go into hibernation/isolation for the winter doesn’t mean that I stop connecting with others. The beauty of technology is it does help one stay more connected, so long as it is not in a superficial manner.
Although I am going into hibernation until the length of the days extends to a more appropriate proportion; it doesn’t mean I’m dropping dead anytime soon because of it. We’re constantly being fed a slew of information of what we should and shouldn’t do plus everything in between, just as you would with everything else (I hope): use your best judgement.
I’m not so closed off where this would apply to me, I live with two boys who keep me busy along with a rambunctious cat who is either really smart or incredibly stupid. Plus add in other social engagements with friends and family, on top of just being a productive adult who works full time; and you know what?
F*ck that, I deserve me time!
So if you’re feeling isolated and/or lonely, this may apply to you. If so: please start socializing.
As for me, I socialize enough. Even if through my lifespan I increase my mortality risk through these periods of hibernation, that is a risk worth taking. You only live once and any more human interaction, particularly at work, would result in me taking my own life first.
So bring on the guilt-free hibernation!
And don’t forget to turn off the lights and close the door on your way out.
Dear Readers — FYI: I’m going to be hitting a busy period over the next few weeks so my comments will be turned off during this time. Instead, please share this article and/or email me your thoughts — It will be greatly appreciated!
Thanks for reading!