This post originally appeared on The Jane Dough.
It’s hard balancing a career and a social life; sure, you’d like to hit up a happy hour with all your gal pals after work, but you can only muster up the energy required to put on a Lifetime movie and order a burrito.
But you may want to think again before flaking out on your friends for the nth time—new research suggests that loneliness can result in a weakened immune system and a greater sensitivity to pain.
In two related studies, researchers at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine recruited 200 female breast cancer survivors and 134 healthy, though overweight, middle-age adults. The participants gave blood samples, were subjected to stress tests, and were asked to fill out questionnaires measuring perceptions of loneliness.
The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, found that the loneliest overweight but healthy participants had higher levels of cytokine interleukin-6, an inflammatory protein, after engaging in a stressful task, such as giving an impromptu speech or doing mental math in front of a panel. The loneliest breast cancer survivors had increased inflammation and experienced more pain. Researchers also used reactivation of latent herpes viruses as a measure of immune response. Survivors who indicated higher levels of loneliness experienced more herpes reactivation.
“Both [studies], in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack,” researcher Lisa Jaremka told LiveScience. The study concluded that loneliness can act as a stressor and may well disrupt immune systems.
Loneliness and Your Job
A lack of social connection doesn’t just hurt your immune system: while a stressful job may be the cause of your dwindling social life, close and connected relationships, especially those in the office, are beneficial to your career. Recent research suggests that people with office friendships are 40% more likely to get a promotion. A 2010 survey from Randstad, a recruitment company, found that participants credited work friends with making their jobs more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile and satisfying.
Fostering work friendships is even profitable for companies: 75% of workers with an office friend plan to remain with their company for at least another year, compared to the mere 51% who don’t have pals at work. “Happiness is the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy,” Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, told 'Fortune'. “If you can find a way of creating happiness at work, you’re 31% more productive, your sales are 37% higher, people perceive you as being more charismatic and you’re three times more creative.”
If you can’t find an office BFF, at least reach out to your co-workers; even gossiping is better than nothing. Really! Dutch researchers revealed that gossip actually helps offices run more smoothly and can improve employees’ productivity.
So go get that post-work margarita with the ladies from Accounting and feel free to talk about the mail guy’s flirting habits—your immune system and your career will thank you for it.