Isolation could be as exhausting as extreme hunger, according to recent study

Lack of social interaction could cause as much fatigue as skipping a meal, according to a study by the University of Vienna.

isolation hunger mental health study
© Dan Gribbin / Unsplash
isolation hunger mental health study

If you feel more tired after spending several hours on your own, this is normal and can be explained scientifically. According to a study published in Psychological Science, social isolation is as tiring as skipping a meal. The reason for this strange phenomenon? A strange mechanism that adapts to our social interactions.

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The homeostasis mechanism

Homeostasis is a term used to refer to our body's internal equilibrium. For example, when we don't eat for a while, our bodies start to feel hungry, which prompts us to turn on the hobs and cook ourselves a meal. Similarly, as a social species, humans have a vital need for human contact. And a lack of social interaction triggers a reaction in our brains comparable to the sensation of hunger, prompting us to seek companionship.

This theory, called the 'social homeostasis hypothesis', suggests that there is a mechanism in our system that automatically regulates our need for social contact, just as it regulates our sense of thirst and hunger! Amazed themselves by the results of their study, Ana Stijovic and Paul Forbesles, the lead authors, state in a press release:

In the laboratory study, we found striking similarities between social isolation and food deprivation. Both states induce a drop in energy and increased fatigue, which is surprising given that food deprivation literally makes us lose energy, whereas this shouldn't be the case with social isolation.

Read more:When should you have your dinner? New research has the answer

The dangers of social isolation

Social isolation doesn't literally deprive us of energy the way food deprivation does. However, the study suggests that the drop in energy could be an adaptive response to a lack of social contact, and that in the long term, this drop in energy could become maladaptive and harmful.

Other studies have already highlighted the impact of social isolation on mental health, and as Livi reminds us :

Research suggests that the loneliness associated with social isolation can impair brain function and cognition.

In conclusion, this study highlights the vital importance of social interactions for humans' well-being. Whether physically, mentally or emotionally, we all need each other, even in a world where our social interactions are 'dematerialized'. So the next time you feel tired after spending a day alone, know that it could be your body signalling that it's time to see, physically, your nearest and dearest.

Read more:Social prescribing: What is it, and how does it impact mental health?

This article has been translated from Gentside FR.

Sources used:

Psychological Science: Homeostatic Regulation of Energetic Arousal During Acute Social Isolation: Evidence From the Lab and the Field

University of Vienna: Tired of being alone: How social isolation impacts on our energy

Livi: L’impact de l’isolement social sur votre santé mentale

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