Loneliness, Heart Disease & Peak Performance

People who feel alone have shorter lives than those who have a close social support network.

Recent research confirms this. Loneliness affects health. This effect goes all the way to your cells.

In research done by Steve Cole, he found that loneliness increases inflammation at the cellular level. It does this by reducing immune cell gene expression.

This means when someone is lonely their immune system is less efficient. They also lose the ability to fight the harmful effects of inflammation. And, since inflammation is at the root of all chronic health problems, this speeds aging and death.

So loneliness is bad for your health. Got it.

But there is another aspect to this. It isn’t only a matter of external circumstances. How you view your situation is a big part of it also. A person can be alone, but not lonely. A person can be surrounded by people and feel alone.

What is the difference? I suspect it has something to do with quality of life. Quality of life comes from the ability to have quality experiences. And in large part those have to do with what some people call peak states. Another word for peak states is “flow.” You will also hear it referred to as being “in the zone.”

What are the characteristics of a peak state? Every source I know has a slightly different list. Here is my short summary:

  • The Ability to Focus. When you are in the flow you are in the moment. You are totally focused on what you are doing right now. This may be why music, art, exercise and similar activities help you stay mentally sharper. And when you are focused, you draw others to you. Bingo! No more loneliness.
  • The Ability to Relax. Tension creates resistance. When you are “in the zone” you are usually relaxed, even if you are doing something strenuous. Deep abdominal breathing helps achieve this. People tend to avoid others who are tense. Think of how much more comfortable you are when you are around someone who is relaxed.
  • Having a Sense of Purpose. When you are clear about what is important to you, your quality of life is better. Your actions have clarity and strength. That’s really attractive. A sense of purpose will bring out the best in others and they will want to be around you.
  • Honesty. Mostly this refers to honest self-assessment. In other words, don’t lie to yourself. When you are truthful with yourself, you will keep growing. This will make you more self-reliant and less dependent on others for your well-being.
  •  Adventurous. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Do new things. This keeps your mind sharp and your spirit active. And as a bonus, you will be more fun to be around.

You don’t need to feel close to a lot of people avoid loneliness. The research concluded  it’s best to have at least a few people with whom you have close social contact.

I would go one step further. If you are going to have close social contact, it’s ideal that it be with others of like mind. By focusing on increasing your peak experiences, you will create the greatest possibility to drawing high quality people into your life. This is good for both your heart and your overall health.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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