No one likes feeling lonely — especially when you're bedridden with a bad cold and really just want someone to bring you some hot chicken soup and a cheesy rom-com. But new research published in Health Psychology suggests that loneliness might actually make your cold symptoms feel worse.
In the March 2017 study, Rice University researchers evaluated more than 200 participants on their levels of loneliness and size of their social networks. The researchers then administered cold-inducing nasal drops to the participants and quarantined them in hotel rooms for five days.
The researchers found everyone had the same likelihood of getting infected, but those who were the loneliest reported more severe symptoms.
The kicker: Participants with larger social circles didn't necessarily feel less lonely.
"Quality over quantity" is the key, according to lead researchers Chris Fagundes, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, and Angie LeRoy, a PhD candidate.
"You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely," LeRoy said in a statement. "That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to these cold symptoms."
It's important to note that this study only found a link between loneliness and reported severity of cold symptoms, not a cause-and-effect relationship. But the findings do support previous research linking loneliness to an increased mortality risk and a contributing factor of long-term physical illness. Plus, it's never a bad idea to work on creating deeper, more meaningful relationships anyway, right?
"If you build those networks — consistently working on them and your relationships — when you do fall ill, it may not feel so bad," Leroy said.
Exactly! We prefer the flip side: If your relationships are rich enough, even having just a few close friends may be enough to help you feel better, faster.