Loneliness Makes Cold Symptoms Feel Worse

Perhaps it's not the chicken soup that makes you feel better so much as the person who brings it to you.


Sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and aching aren't at the top of anyone's fun list. But the symptoms of the common cold can feel even worse if you're lonely, according to a new study published in Health Psychology.

What does your social group have to do with your viral load? A lot more than just sharing the germs that got you sick in the first place, it turns out. "Research has shown that loneliness puts people at risk for early death and other physical illnesses," said study author Angie LeRoy, a graduate student in psychology at Rice University, in a press release. "But nothing had been done to look at an acute but temporary illness that we're all vulnerable to-the common cold."

In what sounds like one of the least fun studies ever, researchers took nearly 200 people and gave them a nasal spray loaded with a cold virus. Then, they divided them into groups based on how many relationships they reported in their lives and monitored them in a hotel for five days. (At least they got free cable along with their suffering?) About 75 percent of the subjects ended up with a cold, and those who reported being the loneliest also reported feeling the worst.

It wasn't just the number of relationships that affected the severity of the symptoms. The quality of those relationships played the biggest role. "You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely," LeRoy explained. "That perception is what seems to be important when it comes to cold symptoms." (Note: Previous research has also shown that feeling lonely can make you overeat and mess up your sleep.)

Lonely? Feeling isolated is sadly very common these days in spite of our super-connected society. Remember to meet up with friends IRL as often as you can, or (we know this is crazy) actually pick up the phone and catch up with people who live far away. And remember, even if you're a capable grown-up, it's perfectly acceptable to call your mom when you're sick. Happy healing.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles