The psychological and physical impact of loneliness

Written by Hayley McAuley


September 12, 2023

Loneliness, a universal human emotion, is often misunderstood and underestimated in its profound impact on our mental and physical well-being. It is a state of feeling disconnected, isolated, and lacking meaningful social connections. While it is normal to experience occasional bouts of loneliness, chronic loneliness can have severe consequences on our psychological and physical health.

Psychologically, loneliness can be a deeply distressing experience. It can lead to feelings of sadness, emptiness, and despair. As human beings, we are made for connection and the absence of meaningful social interactions can trigger anxiety and depression, as individuals may question their self-worth and struggle with a sense of purpose. Brenè Brown (2010), a renowned research professor and author, explains;

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” (Brenè Brown, 2010)

The impact of loneliness extends beyond our mental well-being and seeps into our physical health. Numerous studies have shown that chronic loneliness can increase the risk of developing various health conditions. It weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and diseases. Loneliness has been linked to cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders. The physical toll of loneliness is not to be underestimated.  A meta-analysis study in 2015 by Holt-Lunstad et al, found that loneliness increases our risk of dying by 45% compared to obesity at 20% and excessive drinking at 30%.  These are startling statistics.

Understanding the causes of loneliness is crucial in addressing it. While it is often associated with social isolation, loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of their social circumstances. It can be experienced by individuals living alone, those in unsatisfying relationships, or even those surrounded by people but lacking meaningful connections. In our increasingly digital world, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face connections, feelings of loneliness can intensify.

Brenè Brown (2010) sheds light on the root causes of loneliness, stating;

“We are in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.” (Brenè Brown, 2010)

She explains that the fear of vulnerability and rejection often prevents individuals from reaching out and forming genuine connections. The fear of being judged or rejected can lead to self-imposed isolation, perpetuating the cycle of loneliness.

Addressing loneliness requires a multi-faceted approach. It involves recognising the importance of social connections and actively seeking out meaningful relationships. Building a support network of friends, family, or participating in community activities can help combat loneliness. Additionally, practicing vulnerability and opening up to others can foster deeper connections and alleviate feelings of isolation.

In conclusion, loneliness is not merely a fleeting emotion but a significant psychological and physical burden. Its impact on our mental well-being and physical health cannot be ignored. Understanding the causes of loneliness and actively working towards building meaningful connections is crucial in combating this silent epidemic. As Brenè Brown (2017) reminds us;

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” (Brenè Brown, 2017)

Let us embrace vulnerability, reach out to others, and create a world where loneliness is replaced by love, connection, and belonging.

Written by

Hayley McAuley

Curious Counselling & Psychotherapy



Brown, B. (2010). “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, p.40, Simon and Schuster.

Brown, B. (2010) “The power of vulnerability,” TEDTalk

Brown, B. (2017) “Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone,” Vermilion, London.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Baker, M., Harris, T., Stephenson, D. and Smith, T.B. (2015) “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10 (2), 227-37, doi:1177/1745691614568352


Photo credit to: micheile henderson on Unsplash 


Published : Sep 12, 2023