We lead such busy lives that sometimes socialising can get pushed to the back burner. When there’s so much work to be done, or general life admin to be taken care of, it’s understandable that we might think taking time to see our friends shouldn’t be a priority.
But Dr. Rangan Chatterjee – a British physician, television presenter and author of ‘The Stress Solution’ – says we have to make time for our loved ones in order to remain healthy.
“Friendship is not a luxury for good health it is a necessity,” he tells Lumity. “Loneliness is on the rise. Young people particularly men between the age of 30 and 45 are some of the loneliest people in society and when you feel lonely that’s not just something in your head.”
Dr Chatterjee revealed a staggering statistic about the impact of loneliness on our health:
“Physical changes happen in your body. It’s as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That’s just staggering.”
But what exactly happens to the body when we are lonely and why is it so damaging?
“Let’s look at it on an evolution level,” Dr. Chatterjee explains. “Millions of years ago, if you weren’t part of a tribe and you were excluded, you were vulnerable to threat. Your stress responses kicked into gear. Your immune system would get ramped up and your body would get inflamed. All of that happened just because you are alone.”
The ‘Doctor in the House’ star says lonely people are 30 percent more likely to have a stroke or heart attack and high social stress is a huge risk factor for dying of a chronic disease.
The problem in today’s society is that things designed to bring us closer together can actually have the opposite effect.
“We are social creatures designed to be together,” he says. “But technology and social media mean we see what our friends are up to and then we don’t really feel like we need to see them. Electronic communication is not the same as deep meaningful face to face connections.”
Dr. Chatterjee suggests setting dates in advance to meet a friend or loved one.
“At all times there needs to be something in your diary to see one of those friends in person. It could be two months away but make sure it’s in there. Otherwise we all get too busy and it doesn’t happen.”
To avoid loneliness he also suggests helping a charity or volunteering at a community event. He says you should open up to your loved ones about how you are feeling rather than talking about mundane things like the weather. Making new friendships is important too but they’re not always easy to initiate. Dr. Chatterjee advices every month inviting out someone you’ve only recently met to broaden your social circle.
You can also find advice on dealing with loneliness at www.mind.org.uk. If you are feeling lonely, it is important to seek help.