Stress and perceived social isolation (loneliness)

Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2019 May-Jun:82:192-199. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2019.02.007. Epub 2019 Feb 22.


Background: Perceived Social Isolation or loneliness, a cognitive state with negative effects on health, is a global problem.

Objectives: Treatment of diagnosed loneliness is mostly through its physical (cardiovascular) and/or mental (depression, anxiety) health consequences, with limited success. Desired solitude is considered a means to wellbeing by Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Evidence exists for the relevancy of developing stress-related medical factors which have demonstrated a prodromic or causal role in loneliness, depression and hopelessness. Consequently, presently unexplored direct medical treatment of biological factors in loneliness becomes an option.

Data sources: We searched medical and psychological databases including PubMed, PsycINFO and Cochrane from 1975 thru May 2018 with the keywords, no limits, pursuing related links. Studies identified: 373. Studies considered: 42.

Study eligibility criteria: Studies indicating causal and correlational links between stress and loneliness were considered as to relevancy and study quality.

Results: Data indicate that both loneliness and solitude may be caused by or correlate with biological factors resulting from psychological (life quality) and medical (health) factors including circulating stress hormones, immune system components and the glutamate system.

Limitations: Causal and correlational links between stress and loneliness are under-researched and study size is generally small. Most research is correlational and study criteria diverse. This review is partly descriptive.

Conclusions and implications of key findings: Forty years of incidental research give indications as to a co-causal or prodromic role for stress in loneliness. Early medical and psychological stress treatment should be combined for incipient and clinical loneliness.

Keywords: Factors; Health; Hormone; Loneliness; Perceived social isolation; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Concept
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Hydrocortisone