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Loneliness dynamics and physical health symptomology among midlife adults in daily life.

OBJECTIVE: The current study examined how average daily loneliness (between-persons [BPs]), intraindividual variability in loneliness across days (within-persons [WPs]), and loneliness stability informed physical health symptomatology.

METHOD: We utilized daily diary data from a national sample of 1,538 middle-aged adults ( M age = 51.02; 57.61% women) who completed eight end-of-day telephone interviews about daily experiences, including loneliness and physical health symptoms (e.g., headaches, nausea). Via multilevel modeling, we examined average daily loneliness (BPs), intraindividual variability in loneliness (WPs), stability in loneliness (individual mean-squared successive difference) in association with the number and average severity of daily physical health symptoms.

RESULTS: When participants were less lonely on average, and on days when loneliness was lower than a person's average, they had fewer and less severe physical health symptoms. Additionally, participants who were more stable in loneliness across 8 days had less severe physical health symptoms. Further, there was a stronger association between instability in loneliness and more physical health symptoms for people who were lonelier on average. Finally, the increase in physical health symptom severity associated with WP loneliness was strongest for participants with low variability in loneliness.

CONCLUSION: Loneliness is associated with physical health symptoms on a day-to-day basis, especially for people who are highly variable in loneliness. Considerations of multiple sources of variation in daily loneliness may be necessary to adequately address loneliness and promote health. Public health interventions addressing loneliness may be most effective if they support social connectedness in people's everyday lives in ways that promote stable, low levels of loneliness. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved).

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