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Loneliness May Be in your DNA

November 30, 2016

If you always feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people, genetics may be to blame, according to one recent study.

The study, led by researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine and published in the Journal Neuropsychopharmacology, involved an analysis of genetic and health data from 10,760 people age 50 and older collected during the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study.

In that study, participants had to answer three key questions: How often do you feel that you lack companionship? How often do you feel left out? How often do you feel isolated from others?

Interestingly, participants weren’t directly asked if they were lonely, as people often don’t answer this question honestly.

Accounting for age, gender and marital status, researchers then examined the genetic background of each participant and found that lifelong loneliness is to a small degree genetically inherited. According to the study, constantly feeling lonely — rather than momentary feelings of isolation — is between 14 to 27 percent genetic. The study also found that loneliness often was linked to depression and neuroticism, which involves a range of emotions like jealousy, fear, anxiety and worry.

Previous research has indicated that loneliness is at least somewhat genetic. Studies involving twins, children and adults have suggested that genetics affect up to 55 percent of loneliness.

Chronic loneliness is concerning because it’s been linked to negative health outcomes. It also speeds the aging process, causes inflammation that puts you at greater risk for heart disease and infection and can be just as detrimental to your health as obesity, smoking and drinking too much.

So, if you’re genetically predisposed to loneliness how can you overcome it? Make a constant effort to seek social support from your community, friends and family. Churches, other religious institutions and volunteer organizations are great ways to maintain social connections, especially as you get older. If you live alone, try to leave the house at least once a day — whether it’s to go for a walk, mail a letter or to go to the store. Also don’t hesitate to talk to family and friends about how you’re feeling. If they don’t know, they can’t help. We all get busy in our everyday lives, but when you know a loved one is struggling, most people will make an effort to spend more time with them, or at least check in on a regular basis. Even a weekly FaceTime session with a relative in another state can help someone who is dealing with loneliness feel less alone.

Fighting the urge to be isolated can help with chronic loneliness. Reach out to loved ones, do things you enjoy and seek counseling or therapy if you need it. Social support makes us feel more connected and more a part of the world around us, so nurture these connections as much as you can.