Life expectancy: How our mental health affects us

Psychotherapist Philipp Lioznov
We are lonely and stressed: How does our mental health affect our life expectancy?

Constant stress not only makes us tired, but can also reduce our life expectancy in the long term

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Studies show time and again that Germany is under stress. At the same time, life expectancy is falling. Psychotherapist Philipp Lioznov explains the connections.

A recent study has shown that we Germans are Life expectancy one of the laggards in the western world. There are several reasons for this, and we also find causes in the psyche. You have been researching the topic of loneliness for years. How does it affect our health?
Loneliness is a definite precursor or contributor to psychological symptoms and is associated with a 50 percent increased risk of death. And the subjective feeling of loneliness in turn increases social isolation – and this can sometimes lead to us being under constant stress. Stress in turn leads to us feeling less able to participate in social life. It’s a vicious circle.

What does this chronic stress with the body?
From a purely physiological point of view, negative stress can have devastating effects on the body. When we are stressed, we release the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which put us into a kind of fight-or-flight mode. In acute danger situations, this is a good reaction of the organism – but as a permanent condition it is definitely harmful. The classic health problems resulting from constant stress include high blood pressure, sleep disorders and immune deficiency. But in the long term, the whole thing can even change the structure of our brain.

When stress affects life expectancy

Chronic stress is unhealthy. But how exactly does our mental health affect our life expectancy?
Pretty strong, anyway. And we are becoming more and more aware of this connection, as shown by the veritable “boom” of the psycho industry. Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and chronic stress are associated with a range of negative health consequences that can contribute to a shorter lifespan.

Philipp Lioznov is a psychologist and psychotherapist. In his behavioral therapy practice in Vienna, he cares for people with mental illnesses and researches the topic of loneliness. In this context, he also comes into contact with narcissistic people again and again.

© Philipp Lioznov

In what way?
People with untreated mental disorders are more likely to engage in health-damaging behaviors such as
Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and lack of exercise. These behaviors can in turn increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. And this can significantly affect our life expectancy.

And what about the physical symptoms of mental illness?
Of course, mental illness can also directly affect the body’s physiological functions. For example, chronic stress can dysregulate the immune system, increase inflammation, and accelerate the aging process at the cellular level. Over time, these effects can contribute to the development of age-related diseases and ultimately affect life expectancy. In addition, mental illness is often associated with other health risk factors, such as socioeconomic disadvantage, social isolation, and limited access to health care.

A long life is of little use to us if it is marked by suffering. What does loneliness do to the quality of life?
Everyone can only answer that for themselves. Loneliness is a social problem, and those who feel lonely are not always to blame. What is certain, however, is that it can significantly limit the options and scope for action of those affected and, of course, can also significantly reduce their quality of life. The extent to which this happens is highly individual.

What can I do to actively prevent loneliness?
As a psychotherapist, I strive to view loneliness from a holistic perspective, taking into account both the individual’s subjective experience and the larger social context in which it occurs. I encourage my clients to take a closer look at the underlying causes of loneliness.

How can I question myself in this regard?
Ask yourself with curiosity and compassion: What is causing my loneliness right now? What do I need? What could I do to meet this need? Is there something that is preventing me from doing so? And then it’s about creating and maintaining meaningful connections with other people. For example, actively seek out opportunities for social interaction, encourage authentic acquaintances by participating in activities that match your interests and values. But in all your efforts, it’s also important to establish a healthy level of self-compassion. That means being kind to yourself and recognizing that loneliness is a normal human experience, especially in difficult times.

The way out of constant stress

Loneliness is one consequence of times of crisis, constant stress is another. What can I do about it, especially in our performance-oriented society?
In practice, problems often arise that arise from the fact that we live in a society where productivity often takes precedence over well-being. This realization alone is enormously helpful. Our mental health is not just an individual issue, it is also determined by economic, social and political structures. Systemic inequalities such as poverty, discrimination and lack of access to resources can affect both the mental health of individuals and the well-being of entire communities.

How does this knowledge help us to get through life with less stress?
By recognizing the interconnectedness of personal struggles and societal challenges, we can work toward creating a more supportive and fairer environment in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Until then, of course, everyone can do something to manage their own stress. It can help to simply take a deep breath and critically examine your stress level every now and then. How am I really feeling right now? When we are in the daily grind, we often forget this ourselves.

What else can I do?
It often helps to set realistic expectations for yourself as a benchmark, not to set goals that are too high and to set limits so as not to lose sight of your own well-being and needs. And to establish a healthy self-esteem. We are not what we achieve – we are people who are valuable even without achievement. Once we understand that, a lot of pressure falls away. And yes, a social environment with people who mean well is worth its weight in gold for our mental health anyway.

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