Chronic isolation risks for fibromyalgia also include finances, changes in identity, and physical issues including inflammation. These are in addition to the risk factors discussed in Part 1 of this series on isolation.In Part 1, we discovered the impact of loneliness and isolation including being able to express yourself and dealing with the unpredictability of chronic illness. There’s much more to reveal, so read on to find out how you may be at risk.
In this part of the discussion, we’ll dive deep into three more risk factors that impact the fibromyalgia and chronic illness community
Financial Pressures of Chronic Illness
The cost of chronic illness goes beyond the emotional toll of stress and anxiety. The loss of gainful employment, financially supportive relationships, and perhaps insurance or other financial stability can be devastating.
As if chronic pain, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunctions aren’t enough to cause us worry, the burden of financial stress adds another layer. A lack of resources adds to the anxieties already implicit with chronic illness.
Inability to work may create an affordability issue when it comes to health care. Insurance costs, co-pays, medications, and out-of-network costs can skyrocket depending on the protocols and treatments used.
Working with a good financial planner can help, but if lack of resources is an issue, outside help may be necessary. And, of course, asking for help is a stressful situation in and of itself.
Identity Shifts Due to Chronic Illness
Do you consider yourself to be the same person you were before the onset of your chronic illness diagnosis? Most of us don’t.
We’ve had to adapt to our changes in employment, navigate new and existing relationship issues, and discern our physical and mobility limitations.
After making the adjustments to our lives that we need, we may come to a realization of who we’ve become. Chronic illness has a way of refining our characteristics. Some become frustrated, bitter, withdrawn. Others discover personal resources of which they’d previously been unaware.
I’ve often heard fibrofolk refer to their former lives and their former selves. They recite a memory of a trip or experience and then say, “Oh, but that was me in a former life.”
In many ways, life before fibromyalgia does seem like a former life – a former version of ourselves. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing. For me, personally, I’m grateful for the changes I’ve gone through, the learnings I’ve embraced, and the new respect I have for my body and its capacity to heal.
The Physical Impact of Isolation
Until recently, there was not a lot of evidence showing a direct correlation between health risks and a person’s sense of loneliness or isolation. While the scientific community may be startled by the significant results, the rest of us probably are not.
Studies clearly show that a sense of loneliness and lack of social connection directly impact the body’s immune system. They increase inflammation, which is a major contributing factor to chronic health challenges. Among other contributing factors, inflammation leads to metabolic imbalances, risk of obesity, slow or impaired healing, and a lowered resistance to infections.
Inflammation is at the root of chronic health challenges, and one of the glaring symptoms of an inflammation problem is decreased energy. That’s why so many articles regarding fibromyalgia and chronic illness address the issue of fatigue and energy as well as increased pain.
Practices, behaviors, and triggers that lead to inflammation also lead to pain and fatigue. Lowered energy is at the heart of this problem. To learn more about the factors that sabotage our energy reserves as well as factors that replenish us, review this article entitled “The Fibromyalgia Energy Crisis: A Balancing Act.”
But, is there more to the loneliness problem than inflammation? Yes, metabolic problems, obesity issues, and worsened chronic health symptoms are alarming, but is there anything else to worry about?
Unfortunately, there is. The problem is much deeper than previously understood.
“Social stress and isolation have long been known to affect the onset and progression of disease.” And, now, a sense of loneliness and isolation has been found to affect gene expression. (1)
In what way? How does this gene expression impact our overall health?
Here’s a quote that’ll knock your socks off: “Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking.” (2)
Many of the studies on loneliness or social isolation zeroed in on the longevity factor of those who were observed. I’ll admit that my first thought when I read this was to discount the weight of averages and assume it applied predominantly to “seniors.” I was mistaken.
“The association between loneliness and risk for mortality among young populations is actually greater than among older populations. Although older people are more likely to be lonely and face a higher mortality risk, loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among populations younger than 65 years.” (3)
I don’t know about you, but the age of 65 seems younger to me each and every day.
This article goes on to say, “Now, research from Brigham Young University shows that loneliness and social isolation are just as much a threat to longevity as obesity. ‘The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,’ said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead study author. ‘We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.’”
If the problem of isolation is so detrimental, what can be done?
Judith Shulevitz in her article “The Lethality of Loneliness” poses the question this way, “If we now know that loneliness, a social emotion, can reach into our bodies and rearrange our cells and genes, what should we do about it?” (4)
The answer lies in the question.
It’s about what we “now know.” We know that isolation is damaging. We know that social connections are not just important, they’re necessary. We know that social interactions benefit us at the cellular level. So, it’s time to act upon what we know.