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Health & Balance

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Loneliness May Hurt Your Health

Researchers Say Lonely College Freshmen Show Weaker Immune Response

Lonely Students, Weaker Immune Response

Blood samples showed that the loneliest and most isolated students had weaker immune responses to the flu vaccine.

The weakest immune response was seen in students who were both lonely and isolated, says Pressman. Results were similar for male and female students, she says.

Loneliness and isolation seemed to work independently, says Pressman. Loneliness was also associated with poorer sleep habits and less sleep; Pressman is currently writing a paper about that.

Loneliness, Isolation Are Different

Ever feel lonely in a crowd or content with few people around? It's possible to feel lonely but not isolated and vice versa, says Pressman.

"Social network size wasn't correlated with loneliness," she says. The number of people the students reported having contact with "had nothing to do with how lonely they felt."

"It's not so much the number of people; it's the level of closeness that you feel," Pressman continues. "It really is your perception. If your social network is meeting your needs, then you won't feel lonely."

Familiar Feelings

Pressman says she "absolutely" can relate to the feelings expressed by the students in her study. She remembers feeling that way when she moved far from home to go to college.

Her solution was to get involved on campus, becoming the vice president of her class, joining the psychology society, and participating in dorm activities.

"I really think that helped me," she says. "The faster you can make those connections, the faster you can alleviate those feelings."

Staying in touch with friends and family at home can also help, she says.

People tend to keep the same levels of social integration, says Pressman. In other words, well-connected high school students often build a strong network in college.

"Obviously, there's a period where you have to build those things up," says Pressman.

Others can learn the same skills. "You've got to work on it and get yourself out there," she says. "If you've got people around you, it does seem to buffer this immune detriment."

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