Vivek Murthy, M.D. identified loneliness as a serious health condition when he was the U.S. surgeon general. The human brain is wired to be social. Being social helped protect us from predators and increased our ability to get food. Because of that wiring, loneliness creates stress and stress can elevate the hormone cortisol and inflammation which leads to disease. Chronic stress also reduces pre-frontal cortex brain function that controls abstract thinking, emotional regulation and decision making.
A number of variables may have caused the feeling of loneliness to double since the 1980s in America. Several factors have increased — the use of technology, living alone, telecommuting, independent contractors and population age which may contribute. However, working in an open-plan workspace with congenial colleagues doesn’t prevent loneliness because most work relationships are based on reciprocity (exchange relationships).