Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. On the other hand, when we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and comradeship can increase our anxiety and hinder our ability to cope. Yes, other people can be irritating. But they are also our greatest source of comfort, and an impressive amount of psychological research underscores the importance of human contact. Rejection by others psychologically wounds us more deeply than almost anything else, and research by neuroscientists reveals that ostracism can lead to feeling actual physical pain. Other studies confirm that loneliness isn’t good for anyone’s health. It increases levels of stress hormones in the body while leading to poor sleep, a compromised immune system and, in the elderly, cognitive decline. The damage that solitary confinement inflicts on the mental health of prison inmates has also been well-documented. Alone in an unchanging environment, the sensory information available to us and the ways in which we process it can change in unpredictable ways.
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