A recent study shows that the feeling of loneliness is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. But according to another recent study, 76.5% of Malaysians don’t understand how important a sound mental health is vital to in their lives. These two findings are completely at odds with one another. It’s difficult to argue with how mental health pertains to quality of living when we can’t show exactly how it impacts happiness. It’s easy to argue how mental health pertains to quality of living when we can demonstrably show that certain aspects of mental health are required for a full life span. People are dying because we aren’t acknowledging this issue.
Cortisol is a hormone which is released during times of stress. Historically this hormone was released in moments of danger, initiating the fight or flight survival response. In today’s society however, there are very few sabre toothed tigers threatening the inhabitants of Malaysia, or for that matter, any other area in the world. So instead, cortisol is released whenever a negative situation arises when your body recognizes it requires a response in order to change. This could be a situation where your boss drops a pile of papers on your desk, which require filing by tomorrow. This could be a situation where your child starts crying due to hunger, and you have to go find a quick meal for them at 3am. Or this could be a situation where you’ve no social support around you, and whether you realize it or not, you need to obtain a support network or risk the physical damage of isolation.
Long term exposure to situations which engender elevated cortisol levels are harmful for the body. We’ve adapted for fight or flight situations, which tend to last only a few minutes at most; a sabre tooth tiger chase won’t take long to resolve itself. However, in today’s society situations which engender the release of cortisol can last a long time. Work pressure sometimes goes on for weeks at a time, possibly longer. Loneliness sometimes doesn’t resolve itself for years. What the cortisol in your body is doing during this time is shutting down basic bodily functions in order to provide you with short bursts of energy. In the short term this is helpful. In the long term the lack of these basic bodily functions will kill you.
Humans are social creatures who require a functioning social network around them in order to properly navigate the world. The reason we’ve been so successful as a species is our ability to form networked groups, much in the same manner that ants, bees, wolves, and dolphins do. What this means is that without a group we are vulnerable, and in danger without someone to guard our backs. Subconsciously we recognize this, and accordingly lonely situations engender cortisol release, which is intended to push us towards the acquisition of a social group to support us. Many people misread the signs, or soothe the symptoms of their illness with drugs and other forms of unhealthy self-medication.
One of the keys to social support is being able to discuss these things openly. We need to be able to talk with the people around us, in order to be able to draw on their experiences. Two heads are better than one, and the product of a group is greater than the sum of its parts. Without a network to talk with not only do we get endlessly kicked by cortisol, but we’re also unable to obtain second opinions on our decisions, which puts us at a disadvantage.
This is important for everyone to understand, but is even more important for those who suffer from mental illnesses, no matter how severe. People in these situations require a support network in order to combat their illness and heal themselves. If you or anyone you know has been struggling recently, reach out. Taking these first few steps is difficult, but there is nothing more relieving than being able to shift this weight from your shoulders.
If you aren’t confident enough just yet, we can help.
Get in touch with SOLS Health
Written by Marcomms Intern, Jack Seaberry.