Delaware Researcher: Loneliness Could Weaken Immune System

Apr 5, 2020

Mark Eichmann

Roy Orbison sang, “Only the lonely know this feeling ain’t right.”

Thanks to the coronavirus restrictions forcing so many of us to isolate, more and more people know that lonely feeling.

And if you’re stuck at home in isolation and feeling lonely, it’s more than heartache you need to be concerned about. Loneliness can contribute to a poor immune system response. That means your ability to fight off coronavirus could be compromised by your emotional state.

University of Delaware Assistant Professor Lisa Jaremka has spent the last decade researching the connection between loneliness and poorer health outcomes. That work is especially applicable as millions stuck at home and away from loved ones may be experiencing loneliness.

“Among people who contract this coronavirus, if they are lonely, at least from the logic of the prior work, we would expect them to experience more symptoms and perhaps kind of fare worse with that virus compared to the non-lonely people,” she said.

In a hospital study published in Health Psychology in 2017, researchers exposed test subjects to the common cold and then monitored outcomes. The patients who reported being more lonely were almost 40% more likely to report more severe symptoms than those who were less lonely.

Jaremka pointed out that just being isolated at home alone does not equal loneliness. Similarly, just because you have friends or family nearby doesn’t mean you can’t still be lonely.

“It’s how people feel about their relationships. It’s how do we feel about our interactions, do we feel like we’re cared for and close to other people,” she said.

That means even if you’re completely isolated, connecting with friends and family via technology and social media can help mitigate feelings of loneliness and the weakened immune response that comes with it.

“We can easily start to feel lonely without being proactive,” she said. “There’s a huge number of ways to connect with people virtually.”

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