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How Loneliness Is Damaging Our Health

0 2 years ago

For two years you didn’t see friends like you used to. You missed your colleagues from work, even the barista on the way there.

You were lonely. We all were.

Here’s what neuroscientists think was happening your brain.

The human brain, having evolved to seek safety in numbers, registers loneliness as a threat. The centers that monitor for danger, including the amygdala, go into overdrive, triggering a release of “fight or flight” stress hormones. Your heart rate rises, your blood pressure and blood sugar level increase to provide energy in case you need it. Your body produces extra inflammatory cells to repair tissue damage and prevent infection, and fewer antibodies to fight viruses. Subconsciously, you start to view other people more as potential threats — sources of rejection or apathy — and less as friends, remedies for your loneliness.

And in a cruel twist, your protective measures to isolate you from the coronavirus may actually make you less resistant to it, or less responsive to the vaccine, because you have fewer antibodies to fight it.

New York City, where one million people live alone, was for two years an experiment in loneliness: nine million people siloed with smartphones and 24/7 home delivery, cut off from the places where they used to gather. Therapists were booked up, even as tens of thousands of New Yorkers were grieving for a best friend, a spouse, a partner, a parent.


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