Skip 
Navigation Link

1215 South Walnut Ave.
Demopolis, AL 36732 map map 

Access to Care: 1-800-239-2901

Wellness and Personal Development
Resources
Basic InformationLatest News
Many Americans Pause Social Media as National Tensions RiseUnder 50 and Overweight? Your Odds for Dementia Later May RiseAHA News: Why Stay in Touch While Keeping Distant? It's Only HumanAs REM Sleep Declines, Life Span SuffersHow to Get Better Sleep While Working at HomeIn a Pandemic-Stressed America, Protests Add to Mental StrainBanishing Pandemic Worries for a Good Night's SleepMoney Not a Good Measure of Your Self-Worth'Stress Eating' While Social Distancing? Here's Tips to Avoid ItCan You Buy Happiness? Yes, Study Suggests, If You Spend on ExperiencesAHA News: 'Be Happy' Isn't So Simple, Especially Amid Coronavirus Worries – But It's Seriously Good for HealthIs Your Smartphone or Tablet an Injury Risk?Social Media Stokes Myths About Vaccines5 Secrets to an Allergy-Free Valentine's DayRestful Romance: Smelling Your Lover's Shirt Can Help You SleepAHA News: How a Happy Relationship Can Help Your HealthTexting While Walking Is Risky BusinessHealth Tip: Healthy Ways to Deal With SadnessNew Clues Show How Stress May Turn Your Hair GrayAHA News: Can Social Media Be Good for Your Health?Probiotics: Don't Buy the Online HypeHealth Tip: Healthier Ways to Use Social MediaHow Does Missed Sleep Affect Your Appetite?AHA News: Get Started on the Path to Better Health in the New YearYoga May Bring a Brain Boost, Review ShowsYour TV, Smartphone Screens May Send Toxins Into Your HomeAn 'Epidemic of Loneliness' in America? Maybe NotSleep Deprivation a Big Drain on the BrainKeep Stress Under Control as Holiday Season StartsThree Tips for Getting Your Zzzzzz'sHealth Tip: Creating a Healthy RoutineProtect Yourself From Frigid-Weather EmergenciesNot Getting Enough Shut-Eye? You Have Plenty of CompanyTV Binges, Video Games, Books and Sports Taking Toll on SleepSurvey Shows Americans Feel StressedDon't Get Along With Family? Check Your HealthClimate Change a 'Threat to Human Well-Being,' Scientists SayAre You Lonely? Your Tweets Offer Important Clues, Experts SayMore Reasons Why You Must Manage Your StressCould Screens' Blue Light Make You Old Before Your Time?The Wellness Boost of a Purposeful LifeHealth Tip: Planning a Stress-Reducing VacationTying the Knot Is Tied to Longer Life Span, New Data ShowsAHA News: Make Neighborhoods Green for Heart Health? The Idea Is Taking RootHow to Wait Out a Blue MoodClose Friendships Boost Your Self-Esteem, and Vice Versa: StudyEvidence Builds That Optimism Might Lengthen Your LifePersonality Reboots Are Possible, Studies SuggestStaying Optimistic Might Lengthen Your Life, Study ShowsWorld Cup Matches Might Boost Your Mental Health
VideosLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Smoking
Anger Management
Stress Reduction and Management
Weight Loss

AHA News: Why Stay in Touch While Keeping Distant? It's Only Human


HealthDay News
Updated: Jul 8th 2020

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, July 8, 2020 (American Heart Association News) -- If you've been keeping a healthy distance from other people because of COVID-19, you probably feel smart. But if you're also feeling lonely and stressed, it doesn't mean anything is wrong. It could simply mean you're human.

The need to be around people is hard-wired into our brains, researchers say. We crave company in the same way we hunger for food or thirst for water. When that craving isn't satisfied, the long-term health consequences can be serious.

Luckily, the need for togetherness can be met even at a distance.

The idea that our brains drive us to be around one another has gained popularity in recent decades, said Louise Hawkley, senior research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago.

We evolved to be around those we know and trust, she said. "Our security was in numbers. We had our safety by being around other people. We weren't particularly fast runners. We couldn't defy what nature threw at us just by speed. We had to be smart about it. Well, one of the smart things we did was we capitalized on each other's brains. We worked together."

As Lane Beckes, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, put it: "We absolutely need other people."

Brain studies have shown how deeply this need is woven into our biology. A study in the journal Science found subjects who were excluded from a virtual ball-tossing game had more activity in the part of the brain that processes physical pain. Recently, researchers published preliminary findings on the preprint server bioRxiv that suggest loneliness triggers chemical responses in the brain similar to what's prompted by hunger.

Other research has shown serious long-term health consequences from chronic loneliness. "It turns out that being socially connected is associated with approximately a 50% reduction in the risk of early death," Beckes said. "In effect, it's similar to the reduction of risk that somebody with coronary heart disease has if they quit smoking."

A 2016 study in the journal Heart linked loneliness and social isolation to a 32% increased risk of having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease.

Beckes was part of research published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology that showed how people facing a threat have lower stress responses when they're physically touching their partners or close friends. But here's an important point for those of us sitting home during the pandemic – it's not the physical company of others that defines loneliness. What matters most is that you feel as if someone has your back.

"It's not being alone," Hawkley said. "It's feeling alone" – a mismatch between what you want and what you need.

Not everybody needs the same level of connectedness, she said. "And it's a good thing, because we need those brave souls who are willing to break away from the group and be the explorers, (who) break new ground, get out there and go where no one has gone before. But there's always got to be this backstop, this return to the safe base that even the explorers need."

That sense of having a base can come in many ways, even without face-to-face contact.

"A lot of people can even live alone and be perfectly fine in part because they do things like they talk to their friends on the phone, they have Zoom conversations, they feel like other people will come to their aid" if they need help, Beckes said.

But there are limits. There's a reason those Zoom conferences feel awkward. Stress, he said, arises when our brains don't know what's happening next. Usually, we're absorbing all sorts of cues from those around us to try to anticipate what's going to happen. The absence of those nonverbal signals makes online connections more stressful.

Which is why he recommends trying to arrange in-person social contact with physical distancing – perhaps a small gathering of friends outside at a park with space between people.

Just don't ignore safety to socialize. "The health effects of loneliness and social isolation probably pale in comparison to an acute outbreak of the COVID-19 virus," Beckes said.

If in-person meetings aren't feasible, improve digital get-togethers. Try playing games online.

"When they have a shared focus, players are thinking about something besides those missing cues," he said. "Anything that sort of reduces the awkwardness and stress of interacting with other people is going to be more rewarding and, ultimately, a better source of satisfying your social need."

Hawkley said taking initiative is key. A review she helped conduct about anti-loneliness techniques that was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review suggested the brains of lonely people get "hijacked" by negative thoughts.

She suggested making a list of people to connect with, perhaps a long-lost friend or a family member. But be deliberate about the decision.

"It may not be the be-all, end-all the first time around," she said. "But you have to find a way of feeding your social need bit by bit. And as you have successful experiences you gain more confidence. And you think, 'Yes, I can do this.'"