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Loneliness Epidemic Growing Into Biggest Threat to Public Health

If you were to guess what “disease” is an even bigger public health threat than obesity, loneliness may not come immediately to mind — unless you are among the 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 in the U.S. who suffer from chronic loneliness. According to Pysch Central, Americans’ propensity for being less socially connected not only results in feelings of loneliness, but can have adverse implications for your overall health. Studies indicate that the more isolated and lonely you are, the higher your risk for premature death — perhaps even exceeding other mortality risks such as obesity.

Depression is now the No. 1 cause of illness and disability worldwide and, certainly, loneliness can be a cause of depression. Especially concerning is the number of teens experiencing depression — with social media being a highly suspect culprit for its negative effects on feelings of well-being. This is because, “connected” as it may seem, social media actually encourages isolation by substituting virtual interaction for friendly, in-person exchanges, not to mention the psychological effects it may have when you begin comparing your life experiences to those posted on social media boards.

Many studies have shown that when it comes to feelings of happiness and fulfillment, it’s personal relationships, be it having a partner in life or interacting with a circle friends, that have the most influence on your life. To that end, researchers have found that by focusing on people's physical and mental health, along with their relationships, the corresponding reduction in depression and anxiety could reduce misery by 20 percent, compared to just a 5 percent reduction if the focus was on eliminating poverty.

If you need help in experiencing happiness and fulfillment, some actions for happiness include: giving and doing things for others; putting away your smartphone and personally connecting and reconnecting with friends and family; exercising (which effects adrenaline and other “feel good” hormones); practicing mindfulness or awareness of the moment; looking for and keeping lists of all the good things in life that you enjoy; and accepting yourself for who you are, with goals to look forward to.
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