Humans are a social species, meaning we do better when we’re socially connected to other people. If you notice a loved one self-isolating, here’s what you can do to make a positive difference in their life.
Everyone wants to be alone sometimes, and that’s normal and healthy. But if you notice a loved one isolating themself from friends, family, and social occasions, that’s not healthy, and it’s time to step up and get them help. At Aura Psychiatry, PLLC, board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Farheen Makani, PMHNP-BC and the staff treat all manner of mental health issues, including social isolation. Isolation can be a symptom of an underlying condition; at the same time, it may lead to any of a number of physical and mental problems. Here’s what you should do if you notice a loved one isolating themself. What is isolation? It’s important to distinguish between social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation is an objective measure of the lack of social relationships or infrequency of social contact. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a subjective feeling of isolation. It’s possible to be isolated but not feel lonely. It’s also possible to feel lonely when there are lots of people around. In a worst case scenario, you can be socially isolated and feel lonely at the same time, leading to double distress. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll talk about isolation connected with loneliness. What are the symptoms of isolation? Social isolation, whether intentional or not, can leave a person feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, and struggling with low self-esteem. Some warning signs of unhealthy social isolation include:
Avoiding social interactions, including those they once enjoyed
Canceling plans frequently and feeling relief at the cancellation
Experiencing anxiety or panic when thinking about social settings
Feeling distress when alone or with other people
Spending large amounts of time by themselves and limiting contact with others
Social isolation can also involve emotional isolation, an unwillingness or inability to share your feelings with others. Without emotional interaction and support, you can become emotionally numb — detached from your own feelings and unwilling to do anything about it. Physical and mental effects of isolation Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Social isolation can cause anything from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Loneliness has been associated with higher anxiety and depression levels, as well as increased suicide rates. The two together are also linked to poor cardiovascular health and decreased cognitive function. There has been a great deal of research to support these conclusions. An epidemiologist-led study at Newcastle University concluded that a lack of social relationships is associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. A study published in The Journals of Gerontology concluded that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in the risk of developing dementia. While links between social isolation and medical conditions aren’t fully understood, evidence supports the connection. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked social isolation with a higher risk of premature mortality. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified loneliness and isolation as serious public health risks. What to do if a loved one is socially isolating If your loved one is self-isolating, you need to step up and address the challenges isolation presents, because they may not have the strength or willingness to do it themselves. Some ideas include: Find relaxing activities they’re willing to engage in It really doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you can interest the person in doing the activity. You might try yoga or meditation, reading, listening to music, journaling, and any number of hobbies. All can relieve the stress associated with isolation. Follow a routine A set routine presents a sense of purpose and normalcy. You can even have different routines for different types of activities, so each one feels comfortable and familiar. Maintain healthy habits When people isolate themselves, they’re not thinking about things that will improve their health. You need to do that for them. Make sure they eat well, get enough sleep, and engage in some form of physical activity. It not only helps their physical health, but it also improves their mental health. Stay connected Be there for your loved one in any way you can. Even under COVID-19 restrictions, people were able to stay connected by phone, email, text, social media platforms, and videoconferencing. Remind them that you’re in their corner and want to help. Get them help Unless you’re a trained mental health professional, there’s only a limited amount you can do to address the underlying psychological issues of isolation. Here at Aura Psychiatry, we’re well-versed in the latest treatments, all aimed at helping the person learn to help themselves. To get started, call our office in Allen, Texas, at 469-599-2872, or book online with us today. We can help.