Sadly, many people will find themselves wondering what are the symptoms of loneliness, either for themselves or a loved one.
Loneliness or social isolation is now a huge problem across all age groups, but especially for older people.
In order to help yourself or a loved one, it’s important to know about the symptoms of loneliness so you can take action.
This article will answer the big question of what are the symptoms of loneliness to look out for.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- Loneliness is a feeling of isolation or being alone that persists and makes you feel other negative emotions.
- While it is not an illness, loneliness has mental and physical symptoms and can affect your health.
- Symptoms include depression and trouble sleeping as well as high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.
- If you think your loved one is lonely, they may benefit from a befriending service or companion care.
Who is at risk of loneliness?
Anyone can be at risk of loneliness at any point in their life, but it is a particular concern for elderly people.
This is because elderly people can be isolated from friends, family and community due to health issues.
Such as reduced mobility or cognitive decline, which may mean that they aren’t able to get out and about.
Plus, they may also find it hard to reach out, or not know where or who to turn to for help.
What are the risk factors for loneliness?
Someone may be at a higher risk of loneliness if they have experienced or are going through:
- The loss of a loved one or pet
- A break up of a relationship
- Lack of social contact
- Poor mental health
- Living alone for the first time
- Big changes eg. retirement
Is loneliness an illness?
Loneliness is a temporary feeling or emotional state that people can experience at any point of their life.
While it can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health, it is not considered a medical illness.
Though it can be closely connected to mental and physical health problems, and exacerbate them, or vice versa.
While it is not an illness, it is still possible to talk about the symptoms of loneliness and their side effects.
How do you know if you’re lonely?
Many people experiencing loneliness may not recognise that they are lonely at first.
This is because the symptoms of loneliness have some crossover with other conditions affecting mental health.
For some, loneliness might seem like a normal part of life – but you shouldn’t have to go through it without support.
Let’s look at what are the symptoms of loneliness and the related side effects that it causes.
What are the symptoms of loneliness?
People experiencing loneliness are likely to have some kind of relationship with anxiety.
While it’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, an anxiety disorder means being affected by constant worries or perhaps panic.
This could come in the form of generalised anxiety where you find yourself feeling anxious a lot of the time.
Or social anxiety, where your anxiety is triggered in social situations such as talking to people.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s fight or flight response.
In dangerous situations this response is important as it helps us switch to survival mode.
However these powerful feelings can sometimes override the brain at the wrong time causing symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Feeling restless and worried
- Unable to concentrate
Depression and loneliness go hand in hand, as low mood or lacking confidence encourages social withdrawal.
People can experience depression which puts them at a greater risk of loneliness or vice versa.
Feelings of loneliness and social isolation can have a disruptive effect on sleep patterns, in some cases leading to insomnia.
Plus, the cumulative effects of multiple nights of poor quality sleep can have significant health effects.
From reduced concentration and motivation to worsening immune health, the symptoms of loneliness are both mental and physical.
High blood pressure
Even if it doesn’t feel like you’re stressed, loneliness undoubtedly triggers a stress response.
This means that the body is operating under stress and producing hormones such as cortisol.
This causes an increased resting heart rate, high blood pressure and increased blood sugar levels.
Which can lead to heart disease and other physical problems if not treated.
Overwhelming feeling of being alone
If you’re experiencing loneliness you’re likely to feel isolated even when you are surrounded by people.
Even though you are around people and possibly engaging in conversation or activities, you feel unable to connect.
This can be an extremely isolating feeling, especially when seeing others having fun or making connections.
And lead to exacerbated feelings of social isolation and loneliness that can be hard to understand.
Changes to appetite
When experiencing chronic loneliness, some people may find that their eating habits change.
Perhaps you lose your appetite and start to lose weight – which can be dangerous if you’re not getting the right nutrients.
On the flip side, changing eating habits can also mean bingeing on unhealthy snacks which could lead to weight gain.
Weakened immune system
Loneliness can cause the body to increase the production of ‘pro-inflammatory’ responses which make it more susceptible to illness.
This symptom can be linked to the silent stress the body experiences during periods of loneliness that cause physical harm.
With heightened immune responses, people experiencing loneliness may be more likely to get sick or experience inflammation.
Which contributes to their feelings of isolation by adding to the physical symptoms and side effects of loneliness.
How to cope with loneliness
Coping with loneliness is a personal process and different things will work for different people.
We’ll share some tips for how to cope with loneliness, but there is one important thing to do if you’re experiencing loneliness.
That is – reach out for support – whether to family and friends, or people in the community.
Reaching out and getting support is the first step to dealing with loneliness and helping you cope with it day to day.
Why is it important to address loneliness?
Not addressing feelings of loneliness and social isolation can leave you feeling stuck in a rut.
As we’ve seen, many of the symptoms of loneliness have side effects that take a toll on both the mind and the body.
And anyone experiencing a prolonged period of loneliness is likely to experience worsening physical health.
So for elderly people, loneliness can have considerable implications for their long term health and cause premature decline.
What to do if you think a loved one is lonely
You might be reading this article and recognising the symptoms, not in yourself, but as the experience of a loved one.
If this is the case then the main thing you can do is let them know they’re not alone.
Getting your loved one to open up about their feelings may be tricky, though it’s not impossible.
Asking gentle leading questions may help you understand how they are feeling, and where they might need help.
So if they have something to say, make sure you’re actively listening and ready to help them put the right care in place.
Supporting a loved one experiencing loneliness means finding ways to help them tackle their isolation and overcome symptoms.
This might mean spending some time with them to rebuild their confidence in social situations.
Or dedicating some time to sitting with them and understanding their worries or anything that’s going on in their life.
Find the right care
Even if you aren’t able to provide care yourself, there are plenty of services that can support your loved one.
Befriending services send volunteers to vulnerable older people to spend time with them, chatting and connecting over a cuppa.
But if your loved one needs more comprehensive care at home, it might be time to look at some options.
Get companion care for your loved one
Are you worried that your parents need a little extra help but don’t know where to start?
Finding care for your loved ones couldn’t be easier when using the Sweet Pea platform to search for home care.
Simply enter their needs and get matched with top-quality providers who have availability where you need it.
Just click below to get started.