Christine Webber

I think most of us who are single have moments when we think or say: “I’m tired of being alone”. 

Well now, the University of Vienna has published scientific evidence which shows that being alone doesn’t just make us feel tired in the “fed up” sense but can actually cause real fatigue.   

One part of their study looked at how men and women felt if they went without food for eight hours at a time.

I don’t think anyone was surprised to learn that these people’s energy levels dipped when they hadn’t eaten all day.

However, in the second part, these same participants were encouraged to eat normally but were subjected to eight hours of isolation instead. And much to the amazement of the researchers, this too resulted in a significant loss of “get up and go”. 

As the authors of the report said, “we found striking similarities between social isolation and food deprivation. Both states induced lowered energy and heightened fatigue which is surprising because food deprivation literally makes us lose energy while social isolation would not.” 

I believe this has implications for many of us.

As we age, more and more people are alone much of the time.

We stop whatever work we’ve been doing and no longer have the same company of colleagues. But also, we don’t stay in bad marriages or relationships in the way many individuals once did.

And vast numbers of us are widowed and may well remain on our own. As a result, a third of all households in the UK is now inhabited by just one person.

This figure has more than doubled since the 1970s. And people in such households are obviously liable to spend far more time alone than they do with others.  

Scientists have been highlighting the potential physical and psychological damage of loneliness for at least 15 years.

But this new research adds weight to previous findings, because – let’s face it – if we have little energy, we’re unlikely to make the most of our senior years.

So, unless we favour an older age where we are isolated and fatigued, we have to do everything we can to keep our social lives going. The alternative is that we lose confidence, and that the less we go out and do things, the less we want to 

So, what can we do? 

First of all, I think those of us who are able and mobile should resolve to see some other people every single day.  

When I was a teenager, I used to read Woman, which was my mum’s favourite weekly magazine. I loved the agony column penned by Evelyn Home. And what I remember is that her answer to most readers who were lonely or feeling down or lacking in energy was to “join a club”. I used to laugh at how often she suggested this. But I now see that she was right. 

When we become involved in activities that we enjoy, we get out of the house, we have some fun, and we often make friends with others who are there because they like what we like.

It’s as simple as that. How many clubs or associations do you belong to? Is it enough? Do you keep saying that you’re going to join a book or gardening club, or a choir, or some local political pressure group, or an evening class in car mechanics or cookery or foreign languages? If this research is correct, any one of these activities could increase your energy levels.  

Other ways to have more contact with others is to shop every day instead of once a week.

And to talk to people in shops, at bus stops, when we’re at the library, in the doctor’s surgery and so on. Another good move is to get to know your neighbours better. Maybe you can help with their family in some way. Babysit, assist with children’s homework, or at least take in parcels for them when they’re out. 

I read recently that we have the biggest number of friends when we’re 29.

But actually, the truth is that we need pals rather more in later life than we did back then, when our existences were busier and we were in regular contact with more people. So, make sure you are seeing and nurturing the friends you have, and that you are making new ones at every opportunity. 

I’ve said before in this column that if we are to have a social life, those of us who live alone have to make a lot more effort than folk who live with a partner or family members.

This is tough, but it’s a fact. However, if this effort results in us having lots more energy to enjoy and embrace life, then surely it’s worth it?  After all, we would not wilfully deny ourselves food, would we?

And if being with people is as important as eating – as these Viennese researchers believe – then we should make sure we’re living as sociably as we possibly can.