For the study, which was published by the American Psychological Association (APA), researchers observed lonely people infected with the cold virus. Based on the findings, participants who had “weaker social networks” had a higher chance of reporting worse cold symptoms compared to those who didn’t feel lonely.
Angie LeRoy, a graduate student in psychology at Rice University who’s also the study author, said that based on research findings, loneliness is a major factor that can put individuals “at risk for early death and other physical illnesses.” LeRoy added that to date, there haven’t been any studies that looked into an acute but temporary illness that more people are susceptible to, like the common cold.
The researchers noted that the feeling of loneliness had a significant effect on cold symptoms compared to just being lonely. (Related: Loneliness may cause physical illness.)
Leroy explained that they monitored the quality of the participants’ relationships instead of quantity. She added, “You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely. That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to cold symptoms.”
For the study, researchers monitored 159 participants who were aged 18 to 55. At least 60 percent of the individuals were male, and all participants were assessed for their psychological and physical health.
The participants were then administered cold-inducing nasal drops and isolated for five days in hotel rooms. Each participant was scored ahead of time on the “Short Loneliness Scale” and the “Social Network Index.”
The individuals were observed during and following their five-day quarantine in their hotel rooms. Once adjustments were made to accommodate “gender and age, the season, depressive affect and social isolation,” the researchers discovered that the participants who felt lonely didn’t have a higher risk of catching a cold compared to those who didn’t feel isolated.
The size of the participants’ social networks didn’t seem to affect how sick they felt during the study. However, the findings revealed that among the 75 percent of the sample who caught a cold, individuals who “were lonelier at baseline” shared that they experienced more severe cold symptoms.
Dr. Chris Fagundes, a psychology professor at Rice University and a study co-author, said that the study is unique because of its “tight experimental design.” He commented that this is mostly due to its focus on observing “a particular predisposition (loneliness) interacting with a particular stressor.”
Dr. Fagundes concluded that healthcare professionals could benefit from considering psychological factors at intake since it can help them learn more about their patients, which can mean more effective treatment methods for their specific health concerns.
The study was published in the APA journal Health Psychology.
How to deal with avoid loneliness
Aside from taking a toll on your mental health, loneliness can significantly impact your physical health. Here are some tips to help alleviate your loneliness:
- Learn to love yourself — The adage is true: You can’t love other people if you don’t love yourself. Once you start feeling more comfortable in your skin, you may find it easier to spend time with others.
- Reach out to someone — Find someone you trust and talk to them about your feelings of loneliness. It may be difficult, but discussing loneliness with a person who cares about you can help you deal with your situation.
- Spend time with family and friends — Don’t isolate yourself. It may be difficult, but socializing helps you feel more positive. Don’t feel scared to let people get close to you, especially since being vulnerable is also part of making meaningful relationships.
- Stay busy — If you’re feeling lonely, consider joining a group like a book club or a sports team. It can give you a chance to socialize with other people who share the same interests. A new hobby can help you feel more connected to others.
You can read more articles about how your mental health affects your physical health at Mind.news.