Are Loneliness and Diabetes Linked?

Health Writer
View as:|
1 of 11
Next
iStock

If you’ve ever felt lonely while pondering your diabetes diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis you aren’t alone: People with chronic illnesses may feel lonely if they perceive their conditions to be isolating, and research shows that some people with diabetes do feel isolated because of their condition. Read on to find out more about the connection between diabetes and loneliness, plus things that you can do to combat loneliness.


iStock

Chronic conditions boost the loneliness factor

People with chronic health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol levels, or depression are more likely than healthy people to feel lonely, according to a Swiss study that examined personal and health data from more than 20,000 people. Another study found that people with diabetes, heart disease, or migraine were more likely to be lonely than others without the chronic conditions.


iStock

Personality matters

A Dutch study found that people with diabetes who fit a certain personality type – those who frequently experience negative emotions, have poor opinions of themselves and feel uncomfortable expressing their thoughts to others – are 8 times less likely to feel socially supported by the people in their lives. The perceived lack of support makes them feel lonely, which can make it harder for them to cope with their health and manage their diabetes.


iStock

Complications can complicate things

A study published in the Journal of International Medical Research has found that certain groups of people with diabetes are much more likely to feel lonely: Patients who take insulin, those who have diabetic foot disease, people whose family members regularly nag them to take their diabetes medication, patients who are physically inactive, and those who have type 1 diabetes (which can be an isolating diagnosis in and of itself, unless you know other people with type 1 diabetes).


iStock

Loneliness can impact sleep

Feelings of loneliness aren’t helpful for people with diabetes. Research has found that people who feel emotionally cut off from family and friends have more fragmented sleep, and the lonelier they feel, the more pronounced the sleep problems may be. People with poor sleep habits may have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels, and their appetites may increase, which can lead to weight gain. The risk of depression may also increase among poor sleepers with diabetes.


iStock

Loneliness can affect anyone

Being lonely is a state of mind that can affect you even when people care about you. The late loneliness researcher John Cacioppo, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago, found that lonely people perceive that they’re socially isolated, even when they’re surrounded by others. Many people with friends, relatives, spouses, and colleagues feel lonely, despite having a network of social support available to them.


iStock

Seek people with similar interests

Many lonely people believe that their friends, relatives or coworkers don’t understand them, so they have no one to share their passions with. To combat this problem, join a club that celebrates your interests, or do activities that you’re excited about; you should find like-minded people along the way. If you want to connect with people with diabetes because they’ll understand your challenges, there are Meetups for people with diabetes and many diabetes support groups nationwide.


iStock

Volunteering helps

When you selflessly donate your time and energy to a cause that’s important to you, you may receive more benefits and feel-good vibes than the ones you put out into the world. Experts recommend volunteering as a way to boost your mood and mental health, and research shows that older people who volunteer often are less likely to be lonely. If you’re passionate about helping people with diabetes in your community, volunteer with the American Diabetes Association or another local group.


iStock

Deepen existing relationships

People in midlife and beyond tend to have fewer friendships than they did during high school and college. It’s because they gradually let friendships slide to focus on work, relationships, and raising a family, said Chris Segrin, Ph.D., professor of communication at the University of Arizona, in an e-mail interview. Reconnecting with old friends may help to combat loneliness. Professor Segrin suggests seeing a ballgame, shopping together, going hiking, meeting for dinner, or chatting by phone.


iStock

Seek out younger friends

Spending time around children can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness, according to Japanese researchers, who studied the effects of reading to schoolchildren on adults aged 65 and older. The researchers found that participants who read to children felt less lonely and isolated and experienced more meaningfulness in their lives. Try volunteering at your local school or library. Or time your morning walk so that you can befriend the kids at your neighborhood bus stop.


iStock

Be persistent

Many lonely people give up too easily while they’re searching for meaningful social connections, which can keep them in a perpetually lonely state, according to Segrin. Whether you’re seeking new friendships or you’re deepening existing ones, it’s important to acknowledge that building relationships can take time and the process may involve trial and error. For greater success, commit to an action plan for a set period, and don’t quit prematurely if you’re feeling discouraged.