Isolation is an experience that can be felt either emotionally or physically and self-imposed intentionally or unintentionally. For some people-especially those more introverted- it is almost a requirement to take some time away from others in order to recharge and breathe. Too much time in isolation, however, can wreak havoc on our mental stability. According to Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, social isolation is twice as harmful as obesity to our mental and physical health. To put that in perspective, obesity kills more people than smoking and car crashes combined.
Isolation may contribute to poor cognitive functioning and decline, negativity, depression, and physical health issues. It interferes with an individual’s ability to form stable and trusting relationships with others. When people feel socially isolated, however, they tend to try and fill the void in numerous ways. These include reminiscing about past relationships, connecting with fictional characters in television and books, or bonding with pets.
Defining Social Isolation
Isolation can manifest as the following:
- Keeping important issues, feelings, and experiences to ourselves. Over the last two decades, the number of people saying they have no one to discuss important matters with has almost tripled. Researchers have found that this may stem from a loss in communal and neighborhood ties where connections are more superficial, geographically spread out, and one-dimensional.
- Consistently retreating to the home and declining invitations to dinners, social events, hanging by family and friend’s homes, etc.
- Physically avoiding visiting with family members
- Assuming your personal struggles are a burden to others
- Spending an exorbitant amount of time doing hobbies or work that excludes others
- Having little idea of what’s going on with others
Why Are We So Isolated?
In 2019, everyone’s favorite culprit of social isolation is a smartphone and social media. Before that, it was thought to be television and video games. Not everyone spends hours a day in front of those things, however.
What about mothers who spend a majority of their time watching their young children, cleaning, or running errands? What about the high school teacher who’s time is consumed interacting with teenagers and completing lesson plans? There is a range of different circumstances that contribute to people feeling lonely and isolated. In fact, we tend to feel our circumstances are so different, no one can relate. When these feelings creep up and threaten to make us uncomfortable, some people choose to bury themselves even further into isolated activities, thus creating a perpetual pattern difficult to recognize.
Changes In Family Time
According to the American College of Pediatricians, family time eating dinner and engaging in distraction-free conversation has declined by about 30%. Family meals provide a structure for the day, giving meaning and context to family members-also allowing opportunity to feel seen and heard. Unfortunately, this sacred time is happening less and less.
Perceived Lack of Social Support
Whether we feel unequipped to express ourselves, have a deep belief that others are untrustworthy, or the feeling of unloading on others brings great anxiety, it’s easy to assume there’s no one to turn to. It’s easy to assume we’re the only ones going through something-especially when everyone on Instagram looks like they’re winning.
What Can We Do?
There are many reasons why people feel alone, but we have to remember that we cannot make it through life without others. It’s important to remember that there must be a healthy balance between alone time and isolated activities.
- Stop being so critical of yourself. Don’t assume you’re broken, weak, or unworthy of telling others how you feel. While it takes a great deal of strength and courage to express emotions to others, it also takes strength to give yourself some compassion. Grace. Patience. Love. Kindness. All of these are words by which you need to live by.
- Sleep and other self-care measures. Time and time again, sleep is encouraged by professionals to combat illness and as a preventative measure for many ailments. Although not always easy to come by-when opportunity arises to grab more zzz’s, it’s important to jump on it.
- Therapy. Check out what kind of mental health care your insurance covers or research some free therapy services in your area. Perhaps depression and anxiety is the underlying cause of your isolation. Also, therapy isn’t a hit it-and-quit-it type of thing. Once you find a therapist you’re comfortable with, make it a point to go at least twice a month for several months.
- Get uncomfortable and force yourself to reach out to family and friends-or strangers in an online support group. It’s amazing the amount of support that is out there. You just have to take the first step and seek it out.