Perhaps it's the gray, rainy day; the realization that winter has finally struck and the 60 degree days are merely an anomaly rather than the rule. Or maybe it's the fact that for the past month, because of hubby's multiple surgeries and a lot of my own work, I've been holed up a bit more than normal. But lately, loneliness has been sharing my space with me.
So when I noticed a report on Reuters Health yesterday about lonely rats and how they're more prone to breast cancer, I was interested in what it had to say. When researchers at Yale University studied rats that were lonely and stressed-out, they found that, as opposed to rats living happily in a social group, the lonely rats had a three times higher risk of developing breast tumors than the others; moreover, the tumors in these rats were more deadly, being larger and more plentiful.
Stress. That's the culprit, they think. The stress of social isolation may be the trigger for ill health, according to the article. Many studies have already suggested a link between loneliness and its negative impact on human health. And stress has already been shown to trigger cancer-causing genes in humans.
What's interesting is that because of these findings, the scientists think it could could explain the earlier development of breast cancer in women who live in high-crime neighborhoods. The role of social network could be a big one in determining and protecting health.
Is being alone the same as that powerful feeling of loneliness, I wonder? I like being alone and am usually perfectly content when I am. But loneliness, I think, takes being alone to a whole other dimension. It's more than just craving company; it's unwanted solitude. And that's the time to stand up and take notice, and make sure it does not have a negative impact on your health.
P.S. If you're reading this, I truly hope you don't catch my loneliness. Yup, it turns out it can be contagious.