Gird yourself. It turns out feeling lonely may be making your colds worse, according to a new study published in Health Psychology. Your bad feelings make your other bad feelings worse. The world is a cruel place.
Loneliness -- the actual feeling and not the number of relationships an individual has -- "is a well-established risk factor for poor physical health," write the researchers from the University of Houston and Rice University. This new study suggests the subjective symptoms of short-term illness are worsened by loneliness.
The study adds to a growing body of research that could help doctors understand a patient's experience of short-term illness. It also provides evidence that intervening to reduce loneliness in individuals should focus on the quality of interactions and not the quantity, as noted by the BPS Research Digest. Anyone who has felt alone on a crowded subway can easily recognize how quantity is not necessarily correlated with quality when it comes to humans.
The volunteers in this experiment were treated like the stars of a soft-core version of Saw. They were infected with a cold using nasal drops (75 percent of 159 participants became sick), then isolated in a hotel for five days. Their subjective experience of symptoms and self-reporting of loneliness at large provided the basis for the study. Though, loneliness was only measured once and not against variables like diet or quantity of sleep. While feeling lonely didn't affect the likelihood a participant became sick, it did impact the severity of their symptoms.
It's just one study, but understanding how this cycle can occur -- loneliness making an illness worse, driving further isolation -- can help doctors better understand the patients who live in this merciless world of runny noses, sore throats, and night sweats.
h/t BPS Research Digest
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