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When Lonely, Never Catch a Cold!

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  • Psychologists from The University of Rice studied the influence of loneliness on acute illnesses like cold
  • People with feelings of loneliness reported worse symptoms when compared to people who were not lonely
  • Routine psychological testing of individuals will provide a better understanding of how they would cope with illness

A bad cold can give you a difficult time, but scientists from Rice University have found that being lonely can make a person feel worse. The study brings to the fore the need for companionship, especially when sick, the details of which are published in the journal Health Psychology.

Psychologists Chris Fagundes and Angie LeRoy studied how loneliness affected people with a cold, and found that people who were lonely tended to report that their cold symptoms were more severe than people with well-connected social networks. LeRoy explained that being lonely increases the risk for premature mortality as well as other physical ailments. The psychologist stated that studies associated with acute and temporary illnesses like cold have not been carried out.


When Lonely, Never Catch a Cold!
When Lonely, Never Catch a Cold!

Another important facet of this study is that, it is not merely the number of people a person may know, but how important they are or how they contribute to the physical and mental well-being of an individual that counts. The psychologists distinguished between feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

As LeRoy states, the study explores the quality of a relationship, rather than quantity. The psychologist states that an individual could be in a room full of people, but still feel isolated or lonely, the perception or the feelings of the individual are vital when it is linked to cold symptoms.

Studying Loneliness and Cold symptoms

The study holds a lot of promise in the ability of an individual to recover from an illness or to cope with the symptoms. The main aspect of the study involved identifying people who may be lonely and then making sure they get a cold!

The study included 159 participants, who were aged between 18 to 55 years, with 60 percent of the study participants being men. The physical and psychological health of the individuals were assessed, after which they were given nasal drops that would induce cold symptoms and placed under quarantine in separate rooms in a hotel.  The short loneliness scale and the social network index were administered to the participants and they were monitored during the entire period of the study, lasting for 5 days.

The study found that
  • people who were lonely were as likely to get a cold as people who did not feel lonely.
  • people who were lonely reported an increased severity of symptoms when compared to people who were not.
  • there was no association between the size of the social network group of the individual and how sick they believed they were.
The study was based on earlier studies where participants reported feeling worse physically and mentally when they felt left out or rejected, or even when they did not share good social connections. According to Dr. Fagundes, an illness adds to a stress, when there is an emotional compounder, like loss of a loved one or poor social ties, it adds to it. The study has a strong design, with a specific predisposition ( loneliness) linked to a specific stressor.

Psychological Factors and Illness

There is a need to take psychological factors into account when an individual recovers from an illness. As Dr. Fagundes said, doctors need to take into consideration the psychological factors on a regular basis. This will aid in understanding the condition when the individual falls sick.

The common cold is considered to be a minor illness, however, it leads to a lot of economic burden with many people staying away from work. The main aspect is how these people feel rather than how severe their cold may actually be.

Stay Connected

The study reveals the positive aspects of having meaningful relationships. An individual may have a large social network but there may not be any strength in these relationships, resulting in loneliness. Leading a well-connected life would ensure that people have the right support, so they don't feel bad when they are sick.

It is not merely about cold symptoms, but loneliness can lead to lower skin temperature, according to a study conducted by Hans IJzermana titled "Cold-blooded loneliness: Social exclusion leads to lower skin temperatures". The study details how people who are lonely undergo changes in the body that leads to greater perception of how cold it is. Such people tend to seek warmer places in a room and will prefer warmer drinks.  The scientists conducted experiments to evaluate how people felt in a social setting where they seemed to be excluded. In one of their experiments, they were made to dip their finger into a warm cup of water after they felt social exclusion. The study participants reported alleviation of the negative impact of social exclusion.

Loneliness can be a daunting feeling, which has for long been associated only with mental well-being. However, current studies show that there could be physical repercussions which should be watched out for. Fostering healthy relationships would have a deep impact on the health of the individual, making large social network groups meaningless.

Source: Medindia

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