This story from Science Daily describes an interesting bit of body/mind research. In a group of 229 people between the ages of 50 and 68, those who perceived themselves as lonely showed an increase in blood pressure over the course of the study compared to those who did not. Other physical and demographic factors were controlled for, and depression and stress alone couldn’t account for the increase. The researchers used a questionnaire to determine whether the participants perceived themselves as lonely, but it’s not clear from this article whether they answered the questions only at the beginning of the study or at different points throughout. (It evidently took at least a year for the increase to appear, and it would be interesting to know if feeling less lonely later in the study might have had any effect on blood pressure.)
It will be interesting to see if anyone follows up to see how general this finding is and what’s behind it. This article suggests that the increase in blood pressure might be linked to anxiety about relationships, in particular an unpleasant stew of feelings involving simultaneous desire to connect and fear of connecting.
I liked the reminder that people who have only a small circle of friends are not necessarily lonely; for some people, a few deep relationships are all they need. However much companionship people need to keep from feeling lonely, maybe it pays to cultivate those connections as much as possible for physiological as well as psychological reasons.