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isolation impact on mental health

Isolation is not a novel social phenomenon, and older adults have long been the demographic group most susceptible to isolation and loneliness. However, increasingly, all segments of society are affected by loneliness resulting from social isolation.

Unsurprisingly, the “loneliness epidemic” intensified during the COVID pandemic, impacting the mental and physical health of individuals worldwide. Prolonged and mandatory social distancing altered the nature of our connections with others, contributing to negative consequences for mental health.

When we encounter situations beyond our control, our mental health may be affected. Stress, anxious, and depressive symptoms can emerge as a consequence of the isolation periods, particularly in individuals with a history or those belonging to risk groups.

Social isolation and mental health are deeply connected. Isolation doesn’t just make you feel alone—it can actually change your brain and increase the risk of mental health issues. Without strong social support, managing stress becomes much harder, impacting overall health. It’s not just a cause-and-effect scenario; it’s about recognizing how our social connections directly shape our mental health.

Spotting the signals

Many people may undergo brief episodes of loneliness at some point in their lives. These feelings are typically short-lived and are not considered chronic. However, when sentiments of loneliness and isolation worsen and persist over the long term, there may be more serious symptoms and signs to be aware of, along with steps you can take to help safeguard your mental health.

Some signs that you or someone you know might be socially isolated include:

  • Skipping activities you used to enjoy and avoiding social contact.
  • Spending long periods alone with minimal interaction.
  • Having no one to turn to for support or even a casual chat.
  • Rarely communicating through text, calls, or video, intensifying feelings of isolation.
  • Lacking deep, meaningful connections and intimacy.
  • Dealing with fatigue, sadness, and a constant sense of rejection.
  • Feeling highly sensitive to environmental stimuli, making everything overwhelming.

Difference between loneliness and isolation

Loneliness goes beyond just being alone—it’s a lingering, subjective feeling that can persist despite being surrounded by others. This is especially true for minorities or immigrants who might feel isolated in environments that seem unfamiliar or misunderstood. The ache of isolation persists even when there’s apparent connection.

Social isolation is when there’s a lack of social relationships or infrequent contact, and it doesn’t always lead to loneliness. However, the real harm isn’t just in being physically disconnected; it’s in the deep loneliness and isolation that can sneak into your mind. It’s more than just not seeing people—it’s the emotional toll that creates a sense of isolation beyond what’s apparent.

What are some tips for managing isolation?

If you are suffering from feelings of isolation that don’t go away, keep these tips in mind:

  • Identify a person you trust, such as a neighbor, who can serve as an emergency contact and who can visit you regularly in person or via video call.
  • Talk to your doctor, therapist, or healthcare professional. Isolation is more than just feeling socially isolated; it’s often tied to deep-seated negative beliefs about yourself that can lead to other health or emotional issues. Share what you’re going through with someone.
  • Learn about home and community support services offered by local social service agencies, nonprofit organizations, and agencies on aging. Despite the challenge, make an effort to engage, or explore opportunities to boost self-esteem and connect securely with others.
  • Stay connected with family and friends through video calls or online chats, email and social media. If you don’t know much about technology, ask for help learning.
  • Talk to people who share your interests. Join an online or in-person support group. Check if your community has a “memory cafe,” a safe space for individuals with memory issues, along with their families and caregivers, to socialize and engage in activities.
  • Exercise and get sunlight. Being active and in the sun can boost mood and sleep quality by increasing endorphins and serotonin, the “brain hormones.”

Conclusion

Some might usually say that we humans are naturally social, and having at least one close social circle can reduce loneliness and boost well-being. The truth is that satisfying social relationships can even increase life expectancy.

During and after the pandemic, mental health services have seen a surge in people seeking help for dealing with social isolation. One challenge individuals may face after long periods of isolation is anxiety. Re-engaging with the outside world, returning to work or school, might feel overwhelming, and guidance from a mental health professional can help ease those feelings.

The first step to overcoming social isolation is to reconnect with others and communicate. How quickly individuals improve their mental health depends on their proactive efforts. The starting point is the hardest part but as long as you can be consistent, there’s nothing stopping you from healing your inner self.

Resources

  1. APA.org: The American Psychological Association (APA) provides its website visitors with a wide range of information and resources related to psychology, including research, publications, educational materials, and information about the organization itself.
  2. Child Mind Institute: Child Mind Institute’s website, provides information about their healthcare services, facilities, medical professionals, patient resources, and more.
  3. NIMH: On the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website, you can find a wealth of information related to mental health, research findings, treatment options, and resources for individuals, families, and healthcare professionals.

Helpful Links

If you or someone you know needs to talk to a professional, contact us now to schedule your initial virtual session. You can call us at 888-409-8976 or click HERE to schedule it online.

Take care and be open to the possibility of a brighter, more grateful tomorrow.

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