Anyone who has ever experienced a period of loneliness knows that it can’t be solved with a few social activities. No—loneliness runs much deeper than that. When you’re mired in a feeling of pervasive loneliness, it can feel like there is no cure—but new research indicates that meditation can reduce loneliness and have a positive impact on overall health.
Loneliness and Health
Loneliness is a universal human emotion, one we all experience at some point in life. Loneliness doesn’t just mean sitting home alone on a Friday night. In fact, loneliness is more about the perception of being alone than it is about actually being alone. Some people can be alone without feeling alone. Loneliness is different—it is a state of mind that can cause people to feel alone and isolated.
The problem with loneliness is that it can morph from an emotional issue into very real physical issues. Loneliness is actually a form of stress that can result in inflammation. Loneliness has been linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and even premature death. Loneliness is more common among the elderly, who may spend their older years alone.
Meditation and Loneliness
Because loneliness is a state of mind, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles evaluated whether mindfulness training could reduce feelings of loneliness. Their study included 40 adults (mostly women) between the ages of 55 and 85. The participants were divided into two groups—a control group and an intervention group.
The intervention group participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. They meditated at home for 30 minutes per day and attended weekly group meetings and one day-long retreat. These participants learned breathing techniques and other body awareness skills.
Researchers took blood samples from both groups at the beginning and end of the study to measure gene expression and levels of inflammation. (Chronic inflammation is prevalent in many diseases and psychological disorders.) After eight weeks, participants who meditated reported reduced feelings of loneliness. What’s more—their blood tests indicated a significant drop in the expression of inflammation-related genes.
The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the related pro-inflammatory gene expression.
Meditation for All
This study adds to the growing body of research suggesting that meditation is a valuable component of any preventive health program. If you don’t have a meditation practice, what are you waiting for? It can only serve to benefit your emotional and physical health. There are a variety of meditation techniques - find one that works for you and start reaping the benefits.
Creswell JD, Irwin MR, Burklund LJ, et al. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2012; 26(7): 1095-1101.