In the past years, we’ve become comfortable with, or let’s say used to, staying at home and having less and less social interaction. We’ve learned to detach ourselves socially and that’s begun to take a toll on our overall wellness. This sense of social detachment can be noted as social isolation.
And let me be honest. Anyone, regardless of their circumstances or social life, can become socially isolated. Your social isolation might have nothing to do with your personality or even a disorder.
Maybe you’re insecure about yourself after a tough pregnancy, or maybe you’ve moved to a new City and are comfortable meeting new people. There’s also a chance that you might experience social isolation even surrounded by people, after a breakup with a good friend, or even after leaving home to go to college.
Keep in mind that isolation isn’t loneliness. Loneliness is when you crave social connection, whereas, social isolation is when you detach yourself from social interactions. Loneliness can be experienced as a result of social isolation.
Keep reading to learn the signs of social isolation, the risk factors, social isolation effects on your health, and how to overcome social isolation.
Signs You Are Isolating Yourself
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it had become a routine (of sorts) for us to stay at home and reduce social interactions. However, many people don’t have the excuse of the pandemic to keep isolating themselves. So how do you see if you’re socially isolating?
Here are some social isolation symptoms and signs to look out for;
Poor weight management
Increased weakness or lethargy
Increase in anxiety symptoms
Increased state of confusion
Lack of interest in social conversations
Lack of personal hygiene
Being fatigued but unable to rest properly
Changes in behavior and personality
Poor living conditions (such as hoarding, clutter, etc.)
Feeling a lack of belonging
Afraid that no one understands you
Worry that you are a burden
Letting weeks pass without having a social conversation
Who Is At Risk Of Social Isolation?
Certain people and groups are more vulnerable to social isolation than others. Here are some of them;
1. Elderly people: Age can also be a factor that can lead to social isolation. For example, a person’s social group might grow smaller after retirement or having an empty nest.
2. Marginalized groups: When a group of people is subjected to stigma and discrimination, then they may also experience social isolation. Many a time, some social groups might even outright exclude marginalized groups.
3. People living remotely: Military members, remote workers, or people living away from civilization (for whatever reason) can also be victims of social isolation.
Other risk factors that can contribute to social isolation can include;
4. Losing a loved one: If you’ve recently lost a loved one, then it’s common to shut others out or even isolate yourself from everyone to grieve. While it can feel comfortable, this action can do more harm than good.
5. Abuse: If you’re a victim of abuse then it can be assumed that the abuser has made you cut ties with your loved ones, shutting you in by socially isolating you.
6. Social media: Spending more time on social media has also caused an increase in social isolation. Creating social networks can be good but not at the expense of your face-to-face social interactions.
7. Losing a job: Even losing a job can cause social isolation as it can bring feelings of shame to the forefront, making you want to hide away at home and not interact with others.
Social Isolation Effects On Health
The effects of social isolation on mental health and physical health can be many. Some of them can include;
Poor sleep quality
Poor weight management
Increase in inflammation
Increase in stress-related physical symptoms
Increase in stress and anxiety symptoms
Increase in symptoms of depression
Higher chance of substance use
Lower life satisfaction
Being hypersensitive to sensory information (sensory overload)
Poor sense of self
Paranoia and hallucinations
Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Note: If you or your loved one is in danger of immediate self-harm or thinking of suicide, then it is recommended that you connect with 988 Lifeline or reach out to your nearest emergency or helpline number.
How To Overcome Social Isolation?
Here are some things you can do to overcome social isolation and get support to fight social isolation;
1. Connect With Your Loved Ones
Even if you’ve moved away from home, and you can’t meet your loved ones face-to-face, remember that you can still connect with them. Text, email, or call your loved ones when you feel like slipping into social isolation. Just a 5-minute video call with your loved ones can help you feel emotionally supported; a study suggests.
2. Adopt A Pet
Adopting a pet or volunteering to care for a furry friend can also help you overcome social isolation. Animals can be your best friend and can offer unconditional love, affection, and friendship. Plus, they can be your best wingman in meeting new people!
Fun Fact: Did you know that a study from China suggests that dog owners are more socially connected just because walking dogs can encourage time spent outdoors?
3. Find Your Community
Sometimes, connecting with our friends and family is not the thing we need. If you’ve been in a toxic family or friendship, then talking to them is the last thing you need. Here, cutting ties off with them can be good for you, however, don’t leave it at that. Find your community!
Meet new people who can be your support system. It might take some time to find the right people but keep going until you find your people.
You need to make the first step, and what’s better than volunteering at a shelter of your interest? Try to join a mentorship group, community program, or other volunteering groups to meet your community people. In a 2018 study, it was found that volunteering can be a great way of meeting and expanding your social circle, especially if you’ve recently lost a loved one.
5. Seek Professional Support
Social isolation can take a heavy toll on your mental and physical health, so if you’re unable to overcome social isolation on your own, it’s OK to seek professional support.
Here are some signs that say you need professional intervention;
You feel extreme loneliness all the time
You believe that you’re unloved and don’t deserve affection
You feel extreme nervousness when you meet new people
You mistrust people by default
You go out of your way to avoid social interactions
A therapist here can help you work through these issues and help you increase your self-esteem, practice social skills, address any hidden or unaddressed signs of social anxiety or depression, and process any trauma that might’ve triggered your social isolation.
Social relationships are important and can play a part in maintaining our social health, physical, emotional, and even mental health. It might not be easy to forge new friendships or build new relationships, especially when you’re going through some tough life transitions.
Social isolation can take a toll on your overall health. However, having social connections can bring a change in your well-being. When you begin to detach from your social life and choose to isolate yourself, then it could be troublesome.
I hope the above-mentioned steps can help you find your way back and overcome social isolation, but even then, if you’re struggling with signs of social isolation, then a therapist can help you overcome any hidden signs that might be holding you back.
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