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What is The Definition of Social Isolation and How Does it Affect Us?
Human beings are wired for meaningful connection. By nature, we strive to belong, to be part of a larger whole where we can interact with others—it is just the natural order of life. When someone is secluded, cut off from others, negative health effects result. These effects can be psychological, behavioral, or physical, or any combination of each. In short, the effects of social isolation can be profound.
Social interaction acts as a source of comfort and affirmation for us. It is healthy to have people in our lives who care about us, validate our existence, and support us through difficult circumstances. Most recently the Coronavirus COVID-19 has been the underlying cause for social isolation across the world which has been an abrupt change for many of us. Also, some types of mental health disorders can cause people to withdraw and isolated, only compounding their condition. Others are alone due to the loss of a spouse, age-related logistical challenges, or lacking a social network after relocating or loss of a job. Left untreated, the mental illness-related social isolation can lead to additional mental health disorders as well as negatively impact physical health.
7 Effects of Social Isolation
Researchers have studied the effects of social isolation on mental and physical well-being and have confirmed that loneliness and social isolation is harmful to us. Some of the negative effects of social isolation include:
- Pandemic. For many of us, the Coronavirus has been the reason for so much isolation in such a short period of time. During this difficult time, most of us are experience the feeling of being isolated from our normal daily routines with include the interaction with various people and places. Having this abrupt change has caused that feeling of isolation to come into out lives. Remember, we are all in this together and we will get through this difficult time.
- Depression. One of the symptoms of depression is the tendency to withdraw from family and friends as the mental health disorder intensifies. So, depression can cause social isolation, and vice versa. Being isolated and lonely can trigger depressive disorder, and also put someone at increased risk for suicide.
- Anxiety. Types of anxiety can cause someone to self-isolate, including social anxiety, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In these cases, the individual avoids triggers that elevate their anxiety or fear levels. On the other hand, loneliness and isolation can cause symptoms of anxiety, as perception can become skewed and irrational fears take hold.
- Psychosis. Severe symptoms related to extended periods of social isolation may include hallucinations and delusional thoughts. Think of the movie “The Shining” as an example of how long-term isolation can provoke psychosis, including the manufacturing of imagined social interactions.
- Cardiovascular disease. Living a solitary life is a known health risk for cardiovascular disease. Because of the complex connection between emotional and physical health, social isolation’s adverse psychological effects can result in heart problems due to the lack of support to promote healthy lifestyle choices.
- Stroke. Just as with heart disease, the lack of social connection can also present an increased risk of stroke. One meta-study found that there was a 32% increase in stroke risk among individuals with poor social relationships.
- Sleep deprivation. Individuals who were socially isolated tended to have poor sleep quality. They report more restless sleep, insomnia, or insufficient sleep, resulting in fatigue, focus and concentration problems, irritability, and mood swings.
- Cognitive decline. For elderly individuals, social isolation and loneliness can exacerbate cognitive decline. The effects of this, such as diminishing ability to process information, memory problems, and decline of other executive functions, can further inhibit these individuals from socializing.
Treatment for Depression or Anxiety
When social isolation results in a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, it is essential to seek treatment from a mental health provider. After the initial evaluation and diagnosis, the clinician will typically begin a treatment plan that includes both medication and psychotherapy.
Medication. There are a multitude of pharmaceutical drugs available for the treatment of depression and/or anxiety. These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and mood stabilizer medications. These drugs can minimize the symptoms associated with the diagnosed mental health disorder, improving the quality of life.
Psychotherapy. Talk therapy involves meeting one-on-one or in groups with a licensed clinical therapist. During these sessions the therapist will attempt to identify the reason for the social isolation that has resulted in a mental health disorder, and offer solutions. Because the isolation can cause the disorder or the disorder can lead to social withdrawal, the origins of the problem must be examined and dealt with.
How To Combat Social Isolation During the Coronavirus
It is important to understand how critical social interaction is to our overall health and wellbeing. Short periods of loneliness or isolation are not significant to negative outcomes, but extended periods are decidedly problematic. There are ways to combat loneliness, such as:
- Pick Up The Phone. Reaching out to family and friends right now is very important to stay and feel connected to each other. Having a nice chat with a loved one can be helpful and fulfill the need for socializing.
- Facetime or Video Chat. If you have access to a phone with the technology or a computer with a webcam, you can have a video chat with a friend or a loved one. There are a few options: Iphone Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts are a few options to use.
- Foster an Animal in your Area. Having a pet keep you company has show to help ease anxiety and depression from isolation and just in general life. Check with your local animal shelter to see what the options are to foster or adopt a pet.
- Take up a new hobby. There are a number of hobbies that can be done at home, just take some time to think about what you enjoy or have enjoyed in the past and write down a list of things you can learn or do again. Rediscover an old passion, such as art, music, writing—anything that will feed your soul. By becoming involved in a passionate pursuit it will help you stay busy. You can also share these interests with other online in groups. Facebook Groups and Nextdoor connects you with people with your interests or in your own area with similar interests and develop new friendships, even if they are online for now.
- Exercise. Nowadays you can find tons of videos on YouTube that show exercise videos. Or if you have your own work out regimen that you enjoy, find a place in your living room, bedroom, garage, backyard, or anywhere you have a little space to move! Exercise is a great way to release natural endorphins and relieve feelings of anxiety. It can be done alone or with anyone you have been hunkering down with. Check out these workout channels of videos on YouTube for free!
The Treatment Specialist Explains the Risks of Social Isolation
The Treatment Specialist is a valuable online resource for information related to mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis conditions. For individuals who are struggling with severe loneliness or isolation, The Treatment Specialist can provide useful treatment options and help. The team of specialists can also guide you or a loved one toward which type of intervention is best for your unique situation. For more information about the risks and effects of social isolation caused by the Coronavirus, please speak to a Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.