Understanding Social Isolation and Loneliness
Our relationships and connections with others are essential to our nature and crucial for a healthy and long life. The effects of social isolation and loneliness can lead to many severe physical and mental health issues.
Numerous studies indicate isolation’s effect on longevity exceeds that of smoking, lack of access to adequate care, obesity, or insufficient exercise. It can also increase stress levels, diminish sleep, and exacerbate anxiety and depression.
Social isolation and loneliness are consequential to every element of your mental health, from suicidal thoughts or attempts to difficulty focusing, accomplishing intricate or complex tasks, and unhealthy eating habits.
Every individual is different regarding how isolation and loneliness affect them. Each of us has our personal life experience that is unique to us, and these life experiences direct our responses to everything life throws at us, including loneliness and isolation.
The effects and remedies for loneliness and social isolation are not one-size-fits-all concepts but must focus on the individual’s experience and perceptions.
Are Social Isolation and Loneliness the Same Thing?
As a physical separation of an individual from others, social isolation is objective. On the other hand, loneliness is that uncomfortable feeling of abandonment and hopelessness and, therefore, subjective.
According to the latest U.S. Census, over 25% of Americans (more than ever before) are living alone. But this does not mean they are all lonely or suffering social isolation.
Some individuals seeking solitude may socially isolate themselves, which does not indicate loneliness.
Who Is at Risk?
The short answer to this question is “anyone.”
Losing a spouse or partner unexpectedly, retirement, loss of mobility, or any sudden and unforeseen tragedy or diagnosis can happen to anyone and are all potential causes of social isolation and loneliness. Lack of accessible transportation after such events can magnify our feelings and perceptions of loneliness and isolation.
One group at particular risk is older people, who may often feel they are no longer useful and productive contributors to their communities. These feelings diminish self-worth and only facilitate a downhill spiral leading to chronic loneliness.
Among its many significant health impacts, chronic loneliness can cause intensive fight-or-flight stimuli, adversely affecting the immune system. People enduring chronic loneliness have less protection, are more susceptible to disease, and suffer more inflammation than the general population.
What Can You Do?
Since there is no specific underlying cause for social isolation and loneliness, there are no simple answers either, meaning that any interventions must address the underlying issues and causes for that particular person.
For an individual suffering from isolation and loneliness, acknowledging the reality of their situation and reflecting on how their beliefs and perceptions are contributing to these issues is essential. Solving a problem is much easier when we can be truthful with ourselves and have an honest and clear understanding of our predicament.
But what strategies will help us overcome our loneliness and social isolation once we understand?
Start, renew, or maintain relationships with people and groups you have some history with. The same goes for membership in special-interest or civic organizations and church or religious affiliations.
Keeping in touch with groups and people you have experience with can be the most straightforward solution to these vexing issues.
Volunteering your services to support others is a fantastic strategy to help lift yourself out of isolation. Inventory your skills and interests to help determine the most rewarding venue for your volunteer efforts. Or, perhaps joining a support group or a community action organization is more your style. Finding new ways to forge new attitudes can be rewarding in more ways than one.
Enjoy the Outdoors
Spending time outside in natural sunlight can boost vitamin D levels, improve your mood, and benefits your physical and mental health. A little time in nature can go a long way in relieving stress and negative thoughts.
Take Care of Yourself
The stress of isolation and loneliness can interfere with your blood pressure, breathing, muscles, and much more. It is essential to counter stress with strategies like deep breathing, a warm bath, yoga, meditation, or whatever techniques or regimens work best in your situation.
Here are some additional ideas for moving past the crushing weight of social isolation and loneliness.
- Join a Book Club
- Engage with a Church Group
- Revive Your Dreams and Goals
- Develop a Comprehensive Exercise Plan
- Take Some Classes/Learn a New Skill
No matter your station in life, social isolation, and loneliness can happen more quickly than you might think. None of us have a guarantee of tomorrow.
Finding yourself in a new and unfamiliar world of isolation and loneliness may be unimaginable today. Still, the rigors of life can make it a reality at the drop of a hat.
If you are suffering from loneliness and social isolation, talking to a therapist or psychologist can be very helpful in peeling back the layers and understanding how you might conquer your negative mindset and improve your situation.
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