Lonely? Don't Get a Cold

Are you lonely tonight?

No, I'm not channeling Elvis.  But a new study says that if you are, that cold is going to feel worse.

I suppose it makes sense.  Back when I was single, everything seemed harder because there was no soft place to fall.  Getting sick was the worst (which I often did, in many of my jobs where I traveled often, though I did come home from a vacation in the Bahamas with strep throat -- though it did lead to how I met my husband.  But that's a story for another time).

Having a cold is bad enough, but having a cold if you’re lonely can actually feel worse, according to research published by the American Psychological Association, newswise.com reports.

By finding lonely people and infecting them with the cold virus (how cruel), researchers determined that those who had weaker social networks were more likely to report their cold symptoms were more severe than cold sufferers who didn’t feel lonely, according to the study published in the APA journal Health Psychology.

“Research has shown that loneliness puts people at risk for early death and other physical illnesses,” says study author Angie LeRoy, a graduate student in psychology at Rice University. “But nothing had been done to look at an acute but temporary illness that we're all vulnerable to – the common cold.”

And feeling lonely had a greater effect on symptoms than actually being lonely, the researchers found.

“We looked at the quality of people’s relationships, not the quantity,” LeRoy explains. “You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely. That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to cold symptoms.”

The researchers studied 159 people, all unmarried, ranging in age from 18 to 55. Nearly 60 percent were men. All were assessed for their psychological and physical health, given cold-inducing nasal drops and quarantined for five days in hotel rooms.

The participants were monitored during and after the five-day stay. After adjusting for gender and age, the season, depressive affect and social isolation, the researchers found that those who felt lonely were no more likely to get a cold than those who didn’t feel isolated.

But among those who actually came down with a cold (75 percent of the sample), people who were lonelier at baseline reported worse cold symptoms. The size of the participants' social networks appeared to have no bearing on how sick they felt.

“It's all about a particular predisposition (loneliness) interacting with a particular stressor,” adds study co-author Chris Fagundes, PhD, a psychology professor at Rice University.

I recently read a NYT column by Jane Brody that said people with positive attitudes live longer.  Now I'm someone who doesn't really believe that -- or feels guilt when I can't do this.  I fought both infertility and cancer, twice, with as optimistic an outlook as possible but it was still terrible.  Thankfully, I'm now 10 years out and I have a (mostly) wonderful almost 16-year-old.  But what's so off-putting about this positive outlook stuff is that if, you can't, you feel terrible guilt.  And no one needs that.


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