We all feel lonely from time to time.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was normal for people to feel lonely and isolated. However, now that the world has returned to some semblance of normalcy, many people are still struggling with social isolation. If you find yourself in this boat, know that you are not alone. Long-term social isolation can be devastating for a person’s mental health and can lead to substance abuse, difficulty coping with stress, poor cognitive function, physical health effects, and increased risk of suicide.
Let’s take a look at loneliness and social isolation, why we feel it, and some things we can do to help ourselves through it.
What is social isolation?
Social isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other people.
It should be noted that loneliness and social isolation are different things because loneliness is different than being completely, or even partially, socially isolated. Loneliness is a feeling, while social isolation is an objective reality.
There are different degrees of social isolation. For example, someone who lives in a remote location but who has regular contact with other people (via the internet, phone, or even snail mail) is not considered to be socially isolated. On the other hand, someone who lives in an urban area but who never leaves their house and has no contact with other people is considered to be socially isolated. Social isolation can be voluntary, such as when someone chooses to live in a remote location, or involuntary, such as when someone is forced to isolate due to illness.
Social isolation can be caused by a number of different factors. For example, it can be the result of physical or mental health issues, economic circumstances, or even personal preferences.
What are the effects of social isolation?
Social isolation has been linked to a number of significant negative outcomes, including:
- Poor mental health: Social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Social isolation can also make it difficult to cope with stress.
- Serious health conditions: Social isolation is often linked to a decrease in physical activity and has also been linked to high blood pressure. These conditions can, in turn, lead to obesity and other chronic health conditions such as heart disease.
- Higher risk of addiction: Loneliness and social isolation can lead to increased alcohol and drug use as people turn to substances to cope with their feelings of emotional pain.
- Increased risk of suicide: Social isolation can be a major risk factor for suicide, especially in young people.
- Difficulty coping with stress: Social isolation can make it difficult to deal with stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job.
- Poorer cognitive function: Social isolation can lead to cognitive decline, especially in older adults.
Forms of Isolation and Overcoming Loneliness
There are other forms of isolation besides social isolation. For example, emotional isolation is when someone feels emotionally disconnected from others, even if they are physically present. Many people in toxic relationships feel isolated emotionally from their partners, despite the time they spend with or near their partner. This can be the result of a number of different factors, including trauma, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Psychological isolation is another form of isolation. Psychological isolation is when, despite having the opportunity to spend time with other people, certain individuals begin to believe that it is impossible for them to relate to anyone else. Often, a person experiencing psychological isolation will withdraw from society and stop participating in social activities. This can be the result of a number of different factors, including low self-esteem, mental illness, anxiety, and depression.
Finally, there is physical isolation. This is when someone is physically separated from others, such as when they are in jail or in a hospital or when there is a global pandemic. Physical isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A person doesn’t need to completely abstain from social interactions to be or feel socially isolated. As a person attends fewer social engagements and maintains fewer social relationships, they may begin to feel lonelier and lonelier.
If you are struggling with any form of isolation, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional before the loneliness and social isolation takes a toll on your brain health.
How Does Social Isolation Happen?
Social isolation can happen for a number of reasons. For example, it can be the result of the following:
- Physical illness: Physical illnesses can make it difficult for people to leave their homes and interact with other people. This is especially true for chronic illnesses that necessitate physical limitations or require ongoing treatment.
- Mental illness: Mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression can make it difficult for some people to interact with others. This is because mental illnesses can cause changes in mood, thinking, and behavior which make the idea of social interactions feel incredibly tedious, stressful, or downright impossible.
- Economic circumstances: People who are economically disadvantaged may have difficulty interacting with other people. This is because they may not be able to afford to participate in social activities or they may not have the time to do so.
- Personal preferences: Some people simply prefer not to interact with other people. This may be due to introversion or a desire for privacy.
How to Overcome Social Isolation
If you find yourself struggling with loneliness and social isolation together, there are a number of things you can do to reduce its effects. Here are some ideas:
- Connect with others: Make an effort to connect with other people, even if it’s just a quick phone call or text message. You can also reach out to a family member or a friend, join a club or group, or even a volunteer organization.
- Get moving: Physical activity can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Taking a walk, going for a run, or even just doing some basic exercises at home can make a difference. Joining a recreational sports team can also help you meet people and connect over common interests.
- Seek professional help: If you’re struggling to cope with social isolation, seek professional help. A therapist can provide you with the tools and support you need to deal with your feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Take care of yourself: Be sure to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and find ways to relax and de-stress.
By taking steps to reduce social isolation, you can improve your mental and physical health. So don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with others.
How to Cope With Loneliness
Sometimes, even when we are connected to others, we still feel lonely from time to time. This is because loneliness is not just about being physically alone. It’s also about feeling emotionally disconnected from others.
When we feel lonely, we may start to withdraw from social activities and become more reclusive. We may also experience changes in our mood, thinking, and behavior. If left unchecked, loneliness can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
If you’re feeling lonely, there are a number of things you can do to cope with the feeling. Here are some ideas:
- Identify your triggers: What situations or events trigger your feelings of loneliness? Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to avoid them or prepare for them in advance.
- Reach out to others: Make an effort to connect with other people, even if it’s just a quick phone call or text message. You can also reach out to family members and friends, join a club or group, or even volunteer.
- Journal: Sometimes, getting in touch with our own thoughts and feelings is all we need in order to feel heard. Loneliness can sometimes be a symptom of not taking enough time to get to know ourselves. Journalling can help with this.
- Yoga: Relaxing forms of exercise, particularly those with a meditation component, can often help to ease feelings of loneliness. Clearing your mind and getting in touch with your emotions can help you to feel more connected to yourself and the world around you.
Loneliness is a normal feeling that everyone experiences from time to time. But if you’re feeling lonely on a regular basis, it’s important to reach out for help. Talking to a therapist can be a great way to deal with loneliness. They can help you understand your feelings and develop coping strategies.
Overall, social isolation can have a big impact on our mental and physical health. But there are things we can do to reduce its effects. By reaching out to others, getting moving, and taking care of ourselves, we can start to feel less isolated and more connected. Sometimes connecting with a friend or even with ourselves is enough to shift our perspective. And if loneliness is a regular feeling for you, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can provide you with the tools and support you need to manage your feelings of loneliness.
At Clear Recovery Center, our therapists, psychiatrists, and clinicians are trained to help people overcome anxiety, depression, loneliness, and isolation. Contact us today to get the help you need and deserve.
Last Updated on December 9, 2022