I wanted to explore the what, how and why of social isolation, as well as what can be done. I want to help those who are being affected by it negatively. There are ways to bring more light into your life. I want to additionally remove the stigma around the topic and bring awareness to it. If this helps just one person realise their situation, I hope they can become one step closer to overcoming it and taking control.
For the purpose of this blog, I will not be including people who do most of their socialising online because not every following aspect pertains to that type of isolation. Given there are such things as Skype video calls and gaming with others through voice chat, there is an element of connecting to someone and an ability to build meaningful friendships. However, if that’s how you live and you still feel alone, this will apply to you too.
What is social isolation?
Social isolation is when you hardly ever or never communicate with society, especially when any communication one may get is unrewarding. It becomes more of a lifestyle than merely spending a few days or weeks alone. It is possible to deal with isolation even if you’re surrounded by people. The emotional needs of how many close relationships one requires to function varies from person to person. If one is not having these needs fulfilled in the way they wish, there is a high chance that social isolation is a prevalent part of their lives.
What are the causes of social isolation?
There are many reasons why someone has reached the point of social isolation. There is no specific age group for this either. You can be 16 or 60 and trying to cope with this. One main reason is it is out of one’s control due to environmental factors, like starting a new job, outcast from bullies, moving to a new country where your language isn’t spoken or retirement, illness and lack of mobility. The death of a loved one is also a common cause, if that someone was the one they shared everything with and they have no one else to turn to.
Another main reason is it is being done on purpose. Living alone, especially if one works from home, can naturally lead to isolation. Additionally to this side of causes, it can be that society is not accepting of them or one is too afraid of what people think of them. Being alone may feel like the best solution in these cases.
The links between mental disorders and isolation
One can deal with this without any sign of a mental disorder but I had to mention this. Social isolation does not directly cause mental disorders, but is most likely a by-product of having a mental disorder. It’s not uncommon for people to seclude themselves from the world, if they have depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. Furthermore, any disorders where social anxiety is prominent increases the desire to avoid social situations.
What are the effects of long-term isolation?
There are both physical and mental negative impacts. It can worsen any present depression (low energy and low self-esteem), paranoia (delusions that are out of touch with reality) and hallucinations (non-existing sensations, affecting any of the five senses). Our abilities to learn, and remember, go downhill. Emotionally, the more time we spend away from people, the more sensitive we become to any negative social interactions and from here, loneliness easily becomes a downward spiral.
The stress hormone (cortisol) is on a high which heightens the chances of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and more. The immune system also worsens as our body re-prioritises how to fight off infections, heart disease and even cancer. Taking up, or increasing, our use of recreational drugs is also at risk and everyone knows that this does nothing good for us. Our sleeping, eating and hygiene routines worsen as well and self-care is a way for us to see ourselves in a better light.
How to improve these downsides
Aside from severe cases where the subject has to change their mind, or the mind is unchangeable, cases of isolation can be improved. For example, in regards to delusions, these can become non-existent by being around people who oppose these made-up notions. Hearing contradictions of how you see yourself or the world from multiple sources can alleviate these issues.
What you do in your daily routines is important, such as a good diet. The brain thrives on nutrients. For example, social anxiety has been linked to a deficiency in vitamin B, so replacing those comfort foods to something the brain can use has a significant impact on your moods. Along with better eating, exercising and a regular sleeping routine are also essential.
Getting a pet is a great way to remind yourself of life when you are ultimately feeling lifeless. Not only will you receive unconditional love from an animal who needs you, but the responsibility to care for your pet will encourage you to wake up in the morning. Your sleeping and eating routines will improve now that you’re mindful of those routines in your pet. This does not mean anyone with pets are lonely, in case anyone is perceiving that from this point.
Do not be afraid to seek professional help
This doesn’t have to be a trip to your doctor’s if you feel trapped within your home. There are therapists online who are available through text chat or a Skype call to begin taking crucial steps to help yourself. Another idea is to reach out on mental health forums to people who are struggling with the same issues, and although you’re all talking about your loneliness, this makes you feel less alone. Throughout my research for this blog, I found a lot of forum posts of people who became better through this method. They eventually transitioned into reconnecting with old friends or leaving the house more. Even if it’s something as simple as a trip to the shop, brief social interactions will better your mood, especially if seen as a stepping stone to recovery.
We thrive on social interactions
Given the negative points I’ve mentioned, you can naturally see how much people do for our physical and mental health. We depend on close relationships to validate the directions we take in life. Humans thrive on belonging to a circle of people they can trust. The world genuinely becomes less challenging when we’re not standing completely alone. We learn better and we do better.
Even a relationship we don’t enjoy can teach us a lot about ourselves and society, developing our social skills and permeating the fact that we can handle anything. Of course, not in the case where it’s causing your mind pain, so it’s always important to know what you can endure and what type of person to confide in. Compassion, affection and attention to others will not only make the people in your world feel better, but it will leave you loving yourself even more.