Home > Uncategorized > Are We Lonely When We’re Alone?

Are We Lonely When We’re Alone?

I come from a family of introverts. That means that I know that just because one is introverted doesn’t necessarily mean that they are shy or lonely. It does, however, mean that many members of my family like to spend time alone – something that I understand very well. I like to read articles on the topic of loneliness because I often wonder if being alone means that we are lonely, even if we don’t know it. I found an interesting article recently Livescience.com written by one of the website’s contributors, Katharine Gammon. She reported on one John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago social psychologist who studies the biological effects of loneliness. I thought this article was well written, succinct, and informative.

Overall, Cacioppo has correlated loneliness with higher blood pressure, body inflammation, and problems regarding learning and memory. He specifically studied how loneliness affects the immune system: Cacioppo and his team studied the kinds of genes in lonely people and how they fluctuated over time. It became apparent that the genes of lonely people became inflamed over time, meaning that a lonely person’s body has let its defenses down to viral threats.

This means that our immune systems, when lonely, have to make a decision between fighting those viral threats and fighting bacterial threats. Lonely people see the world as a negative place – threatening them – therefore causing their bodies to protect against bacterial threats. If a lonely person’s body is mostly focusing on bacterial threats, that means that their body is essentially ignoring the viral threats, which can be serious illnesses such as different cancers.

The rest of the article is extremely interesting and I suggest you read it, because it discusses more biological effects of being lonely. I was skeptical at the beginning because the term “loneliness” itself was not explicitly discussed, but it was at the end – which actually made the article more interesting because, while reading it, I was forming my own definition of what loneliness is. What do you define loneliness as? What do you think of the rest of the article? Are people really lonely if they spend a lot of time alone?



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 21, 2012 at 4:52 am

    I am a bit of an introvert myself, in the sense that I often enjoy alone time, whether it’s reading a book or just listening to music in bed. However, I know that spending too much time alone is a bad thing- humans are social beings who are made to interact with other people and enjoy their presence. Oftentimes I enjoy spending relax time by myself, because my personality is quieter than a more social person- but after so much time, I get lonely for other people’s companionship, talk, and general personality. You don’t always want to spend time with just yourself, right? You can even get tired of yourself once in a while. As everyone probably knows, we can definitely get tired of being around people too!
    Being around other people helps you see newer sides to things, and can sometimes help you appreciate the time you do have alone even more! The bottom line is that there is definitely a line between enjoying alone time, and being a hermit. Alone time is good for the soul and the body, but so is socialization. We have an inherent need to be around other people and have their friendship. A break from this is always good, to pull away and be by yourself, and that is why an equilibrium is needed between the two for a happy and healthy life.

  2. anthonypribadi
    March 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    I was quite an introvert too, actually, before college. But since I was the only one from my high school who went to my college, I had to make new friends and immerse myself in new societies or organizations. That, in a way, helped me to become a little more sanguine than before. (Sanguine and choleric are considered as the extrovert group, whereas melancholic and phlegmatic are considered as the introvert one) You may want to read this wikipedia article if you’re interested about this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments

    Going back to the title of the post. Am I lonely when I am alone? Not necessarily. I can be lonely when I’m surrounded by even good friends. And I can feel not lonely at all when I am alone, on the other hand. There is this saying, “Alone together”, which I think is true in many circumstances nowadays. In big cities like DC, New York, Singapore, etc people are quite individualistic and do not really interact with each other.

    As for definition, I would define loneliness as a state where someone does not have anyone (real person, not blog or diary) to share joy or sorrow with when he/she needs to express those feelings. Hmmmm.

  3. March 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I found it particularly interesting that loneliness can take a toll on health. I think I have become more introverted coming to college because of the adjustment coming from high school where you knew many to coming into college with few/ no friends. Sometimes I feel that when I’m lonely I am alone, but I think it comes down how you perceive things. Like the post said above, even surrounded by friends one can feel lonely. When I’m alone I don’t always necessarily feel lonely- sometimes people feel comfortable not being around others and wouldn’t define that situation as a lonely one. But I have definitely been able to notice things about me when I’m alone, and sometimes it is important to spend alone time than to be around people constantly.

  4. March 26, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Hmmm…adding my two cents to the topic:

    I don’t think that loneliness in itself causes these health problems. Rather, I think it’s the emotional consequences of being lonely. When you’re lonely, you’re more likely to become depressed, and when you’re depressed, you’re probably more likely to take poor care of yourself. Think about it: if you’re really down on the way life’s going, are you more or less inclined to eat well or exercise? Probably a lot less. THOSE things cause the lack health problems, giving the loneliness a more indirect role.

    Also, I don’t think that being alone itself is a bad thing; it’s more or less our reaction to it. A lot of people are probably perfectly content with being alone, and thus they don’t become depressed and thus don’t develop the poor health habits I described above.

  5. March 26, 2012 at 1:51 am

    I think there is a clear difference in being alone vs being lonely. Loneliness is the desire to be with someone in a socially pleasing way. You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely, because loneliness is a state of mind. Being alone, for many, can relaxing, a quite moment to oneself to pause and collect ones thoughts, or maybe a time to not think at all. It isn’t until that person feels a desire to socialize or have companionship that loneliness begins.

  6. March 26, 2012 at 4:08 am

    It’s very interesting to analyze just how much mental health can affect the body’s physical health. Many people do not think that these two aspects of life go so hand in hand. In reality, if one is not mentally stable and healthy, it can have major repercussions on the physical well-being of a person. I think that this article captures well a lot of the impacts that being lonely on the health of a person. It shows that humans are social creatures who thrive on social interaction and support. Without social interaction and support, the body takes a toll. Other things effect the physical health of the body as well though. Stress, for example, is huge. When a person is stressed with, for example, school work, this can increase symptoms of migraines and acid reflux (among many other things). It really all just shows how important it is to make sure that you can mentally handle everything you take on, especially in college, because you do not want to cause yourself to become physically unhealthy. Having a support system of friends and mentors or guidance counselors is a great way to assure that one is never lonely. Because while being alone is something that will inevitably happen (and is not a bad thing in my opinion, everyone needs some alone time), feeling alone in life is never good and can make someone very unhappy and unhealthy in life.

  7. March 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I agree with Elie about the differences between feeling lonely and being alone. I love to stay in my area and crave my life in my room for 1 to 2 months like a hermit crab. Yes, I may feel “wow, I am alone in my room” just because I have been a lazy hermit for a long time. Like anthonyprib mentions that I believe that I have someone who I can truly trust and depend on.

    Simply, I am worried with the way certain people deals with loneliness. That, such stress needs to be taken care of with a careful process. Someone said that the person feels more comfortable when the person is surrounded by multiple friends. That is fine, but certain people will rely on drugs and alcohol to mend their stresses.

  8. March 28, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Personally, I love to be social, but in order to do so I need to be able to retreat to my room or do something by myself to re-group before the next social event. I don’t think that being alone for personal reflection or ‘alone time’ is necessarily a bad thing and can actually be beneficial.

    However, it’s beneficial as long as being alone doesn’t lead to loneliness that causes health and emotional problems. I think that Plankton brought up a good point because often some people turn to drugs or alcohol in order to deal with the loneliness if they have no ways to deal with it otherwise. This is where, if they have no person to go to, finding resources like counseling would be beneficial for them so they don’t use drugs that may harm their body in the long run.

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