Having more time on my hands has meant being able to do more reading, both fiction and non-fiction. And it’s meant that I can afford the luxury of disappearing down rabbit holes. Where one article references another, and that leads you off into a different direction, and you find out all kinds of wonderfully interesting things.
I’ve always known that social interaction is good for you. It creates feel-good hormones. They’re our reward for interacting with others, because our chances of survival are better if we’re in a group than if we’re lone individuals. Makes perfect sense.
Recently I’ve been reading more about the flip side. The negative effects of social isolation. It’s not just that we don’t get the feel-good hormones from connecting with others. That’s bad enough and can lead to depression. It turns out that people with few social connections are more likely to have higher levels of inflammation, and become sick. Pretty weird, but there’s a good evolutionary reason for it.
Inflammation is when chemicals from your white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect you from invaders. It’s fine when there are actual invaders, but sometimes inflammation continues long after the first trigger is gone. If it goes on, the inflammation eventually starts damaging healthy cells, tissues and organs. This affects the health of just about every system in the body. It can cause all kinds of diseases, including cancer.
So why are your inflammation levels higher if you’re lonely? Well, if you’re isolated you’re vulnerable. You’re more likely to be attacked by a predator or nasty tribesman from next door. So we evolved to turn up the body’s ability to fight off infection when we’re isolated - just in case. We did this by upping the levels of inflammation in anticipation of a possible attack.
A perfectly logical explanation and, in one of those weird moments of synchronicity, the day I read about that, the very same topic came up on BBC’s The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System. I always like it when information is corroborated like that.
In this day and age there are no predators, so the inflammation response to being isolated has no real outlet. Other than to attack our healthy cells and make us sick.
All the more reason to reach out to others. And if we can’t do it in person, then over t’internet is the next best thing.