How Does Social Isolation Affect Mental Health?​

We hope everyone is doing well both physically and mentally during these troubling times. As we are all aware, COVID-19 has been having a significant impact on our businesses, friends, and families, and especially our mental health. People are feeling anxious and socially isolated, and nobody knows when, or if, everything will begin to function like normal again.

It seems as though all of this has happened very suddenly. These times are uncertain, but we have to do all that we can to take care of the health and wellbeing of ourselves as well as our loved ones. Especially now that everyone is practicing social distancing, our mental health is becoming severely impacted. Not being around the people who you care about after a certain amount of time has people feeling lonely and isolated. 

Human interaction and relationships are essential for our mental health because having social contact with others allows us to help cope with life’s stressors. According to Psychology Today, interacting with others also boosts your feelings of wellbeing and decreases your feelings of depression. Humans are social beings, and building social connections is one way that a person can bring his or her mood up. Now that social interaction has been taken away from us, people are feeling more depressed and isolated.

We all can feel lonely sometimes, but loneliness can turn into social isolation and depression if not managed. It is important to have someone that can help you cope with all that is going on in the world right now.

What is Social Isolation?

What exactly is social isolation? When you are completely lacking contact with society, you are socially isolated. We are encouraged to practice social distancing in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus and protect ourselves and our loved ones. However, the lack of social contact can have an effect on our mental health.

Social isolation can lead to other issues such as loneliness, low self-esteem, paranoia, and depression. Now more than ever, it is good to have a support system to help you get through difficult moments. People need to feel like they are not alone.

Loneliness Symptoms

What are some of the signs and symptoms of loneliness? You will be surprised at a few of them! Some of the symptoms might not even seem like a huge deal. If you are experiencing any of these feelings or behaviors, you are likely feeling lonely.

You Are Hoarding

The absence of actual people in your life can lead you to start buying and collecting unnecessary items. We do this so that we will not feel as alone and as a way to feel better about ourselves. This is why people who are experiencing loneliness shop a lot or have tons of items in their spaces. People may also know this as “retail therapy.” However, buying things when you are feeling lonely can eventually leave you and your bank account suffering.

Purchasing a lot of material items will not make you feel any less lonely. In fact, it will actually make you seem more materialistic. Also, once you start collecting too many items, it can very quickly begin to interfere with your daily life or the lives of others. The more things you have, the more clutter you are bringing in. Before you know it, your space has been taken over with all these items. It is also important to note that being physically surrounded by chaos will not help with your mental health.

The sad reality about hoarding and retail therapy is that no amount of material items will seem like enough, nor can they replace the relationships you form with real people. You might even end up feeling worse in the long run.

You Are Always Sick

Feeling lonely can bring on a lot of stress for a person. When you actually are alone, there is no one there to help you cope with the stress that you are dealing with. Constantly being stressed will cause your immune system to not work as effectively as it should, which will result in you getting sick more often.

Not only that, but loneliness makes our bodies feel under attack. This is because loneliness can raise our blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and physical and psychological stress levels. If you are constantly feeling lonely, it can also increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

When you are lonely and are not surrounded by a support system, you will likely start picking up bad habits that will eventually make you feel worse, such as drinking or overeating. When you are not taking care of your body as you should, it makes it harder to protect itself from illnesses and recover.

You Are Gaining Weight

Weight gain is a common symptom of loneliness because sometimes people feed their feelings with food, which is known as emotional eating. The more you find yourself feeling lonely, the more you are going to want to feed your emotions with food to feel better. The ultimate result? You will begin to start gaining weight.

Frequently, we use food as a way to cope with stress and make us feel comfortable. Sure, it can temporarily make you feel better in the moment when you are feeling lonely or stressed, but you will end up feeling even worse in the long run. 

The thing about emotional eating is that no matter how much food you consume, it never seems to be enough to satisfy your emotional hunger, which is why you keep eating and end up gaining more weight. It is a cycle that can be tough to break because when you feel low, you begin to eat. When you eat more than you know you should, you start feeling depressed again.

You Are Taking Long, Hot Showers

A lot of people might not know this, but loneliness can actually make your body feel colder. Because of this, you might desire hot beverages or a long, hot shower. Feeling cold is how our bodies react to social isolation, and finding warmth can help relieve you temporarily.

People who are struggling with loneliness usually take showers or baths that are hotter and longer than usual. The physical warmth from a hot shower is similar to the warmth of having companionship.

Although anyone would enjoy a nice, luxurious bath, you should not depend on that alone to fill the void of your loneliness. Hot showers or baths should be more of a temporary fix rather than something that you always need to help you feel better. If your showers are becoming longer and hotter, you are likely suffering from chronic loneliness, and you might want to consider getting professional help before it becomes worse.

You Are Always Around Other Lonely People

Have you ever heard of the phrase “misery loves company”? Loneliness is actually contagious! If you are around someone who is lonely a lot, you too will begin feeling lonely. It is similar to catching a cold from someone else.

This is especially true when it is someone who you are close to, such as a friend or family member. If you are living with someone who is suffering from loneliness during this pandemic, you may begin to notice that their loneliness will “rub off” on you.

How to Overcome Social Isolation

If you want to overcome social isolation, you need to start socially interacting. You cannot physically be around people right now, but there are a lot of other ways that you can interact and socialize with others. Arrange to have a phone catch up with a friend. Plan a virtual game night. Join online groups through social media. Send someone a text. Having any type of contact with someone, whether it be a friend or a relative, can make you feel a lot better when you are feeling isolated.

You can also start doing activities that make you feel happy and less lonely. Now is a great time to start focusing more on your hobbies, getting things organized around the house, or learning something new. Keeping yourself busy with something enjoyable will take your mind off the loneliness that you are experiencing.

Most importantly, it is good to have compassion for yourself. Times are stressful, and you are going to feel isolated and alone. Learn to not be so hard on yourself. You might feel lonely, but remember that you are not alone. There are millions of people out there who understand how hard it can be to cope with loneliness. Be patient with yourself.

Treatment Options for Mental Illness

If you notice that your loneliness symptoms are not changing or that they are getting worse, please reach out for professional help. The longer you wait to get the treatment you need, the more likely it is that you will suffer from more severe mental health issues.

Renewal Behavioral Health has many treatment options to help people overcome their intense feelings of loneliness. From individual psychotherapy to mindful meditation, we have different options that will work for you and help you feel better. Now more than ever, it is important for people to start making their mental health a top priority.

If you are feeling uneasy about leaving the house, you can still receive virtual treatment. There are telehealth options available, so we can give you the help you need from the comfort of your home. If you or someone you know is suffering from social isolation, do not hesitate to contact us today to further discuss our treatment options.

References

https://www.explore-life.com/en/articles/the-importance-of-human-interaction-and-relationships

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-mild-cognitive-impairment/201606/the-health-benefits-socializing