Isolation and Mental Health: Reliable Ways To Move Forward

Isolation and Mental Health
Isolation and Mental Health: Reliable Ways To Move Forward

Isolation and mental health is a silent threat. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a survey that was taken for the better portion of 2020, almost half of the people ages 18-29 report feelings of anxiety and depression. This is far more than any other generation.

In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people under 35.

Isolation can be a double-edged sword. Maybe you are choosing to be alone due to health concerns or perhaps it’s just pure preference.

One of the pieces to the puzzle of life is to be social, gain meaningful connections, and network.

Humans are social creatures by nature.

Isolation and Mental Health

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, over 25% of people between the ages of 18-25 have some sort of mental illness prior to the 2020 pandemic.

How do you live a balanced life when you are not seeing people every day? What does a “balanced life” even mean?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified 8 aspects of wellness. This is what you should focus on to optimize your health.

These eight wellness aspect include:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Occupational
  • Social

The social well-being of individuals and the long-term effect of being isolated is one of the least discussed aspects of societal wellness.

What Isolation Can Lead To

Experiencing isolation for a prolonged period of time can lead to loneliness, depression, and substance abuse, to name a few. In turn, these effects can each lead to their own additional issues.

“The walls of isolation are not as solid as your suffering makes them seem.” – Deepak Chopra

Loneliness

Loneliness is not simply just being alone, it is a state of mind. Someone can be in a group of people and still FEEL lonely.

It is defined as the state of distress or discomfort that results when there is a perceived gap between one’s desires for social connection and the actual experiences of it.

In other words, it is the feeling of being alone and isolated while not being able to form deep connections with people. This can cause individuals to feel empty, alone, and unwanted.

Loneliness can lead to other more serious medical risks:

  • Alcoholism and drug use
  • Altered brain function
  • Alzheimer’s disease progression
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Decreased memory and learning
  • Depression and suicide
  • Increased stress levels
  • Poor decision-making
  • Sleep disorders
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Mental balance and emotional problems

According to a study done by Cigna, Generation Z adults (ages 18-22) are the most lonely generation bringing the United States to epidemic levels. In this 2018 study, only 53% of Americans have meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis. This could be with a co-worker, friend, or family member.

Students have higher loneliness scores than retirees despite the perception that there are more social interactions between the younger crowd.

blonde girl on couch crying into pillow

Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how someone feels, thinks, and behaves, it can also lead to a variety of physical and emotional problems.

According to the CDC, loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. Clinical depression can cause physiological changes in the body including sleep disorders, fatigue, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Once depression develops it can be much harder for people to get the help they need. How do you know that you might be depressed?

Some symptoms may include:

  • Persistently sad or anxious
  • Consistent “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling pessimistic
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Difficulty sleeping, awakening, or oversleeping
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight changes
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Having a hard time with recall
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Ailments without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment

Your primary care physician can help if you are having feelings of depression.

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

This list of 80 mental health resources could hold the key to helping you get through this time.

Substance Abuse

At one point in mid-March 2020, online alcohol sales increased by 243% according to the research firm Nielsen. While there are a number of factors that are assumed to have played into this increase, it is worth noting that by making these purchases online you are further isolating yourself.

Isolation and addiction is a double-edged sword. Addiction can lead to the desire to isolate and vice versa.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that plays a role in how humans feel pleasure.

Both drugs and social interaction have the ability to stimulate the production of dopamine. People may look towards self-medicating when not receiving enough dopamine through their physical and emotional connections.

Drug use can decrease the levels of dopamine that your body naturally produces. This can lead to emotional lows when not using.

Some recovery and support groups are shifting online which could increase the loneliness felt by addicts as they are unable to receive the social aspects and connectedness that these meetings often bring.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction it is important to keep in contact. Let them know that you are there for support and that you care about their wellbeing.

A strong support system is vital for continued recovery or for seeking it out initially.

self care isn't selfish written on board

How To Be By Yourself

Getting comfortable with your own company can be difficult, especially in this world of social media, streaming, facetime, texting, and the list goes on. It is really easy to physically be by yourself but not actually be alone.

Don’t hide from yourself. You are a fantastic human that has great things to offer this world.

There are countless ways that you can practice self-care while being alone.

  • Take a bath
  • Walk outside
  • Meditate
  • Eat healthy
  • Find a new hobby
  • Pick an old hobby back up
  • Practice good hygiene habits
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Read a book
  • Get organized

There are some benefits to being alone as long as you are able to manage your alone time to receive these benefits.

  • Boosts creativity
  • Improves recall
  • Prioritizes your time
  • Improves relationships
  • Increases productivity

“There is a difference between solitude and isolation. One is connected and one isn’t. Solitude replenishes, isolation diminishes.” – Henry Cloud

Put Your Phone Down

A typical cell phone user touches his or her phone 2,617 per DAY, with extreme cell phone users (top 10%) touching their phone over 5,400 times a day, according to a study done by Dscout.

Yes, it is true that your phone is your lifeline, basically an extension of your body. But should it be? Is it 100% helpful all the time?

It does keep us connected with family and friends that we love along with those we like to keep track of on social media.

Is social media a positive thing in your life, or is it starting to go down a road of comparing yourself to others? Most often people only post the highlights of their life on social media.

If you are comparing your life as a whole to the highlight reel of your peers, it is a recipe for disaster. Plus, if you are on your phone whether you are using it for social media, texting, or the classic use of actually speaking on it, are you actually ALONE?

This exercise is about being alone, so put the phone down. You can ease into this by starting with just 5 minutes at a time. Set a timer to keep you on track. (Timers can be set on your oven, microwave, wristwatch, or Fitbit – not just your phone.)

Since social media platforms are relatively new in terms of human history, there is a bit of controversy around any long-term effects it may have.

However, there are many studies being done that could link social networking sites to an increase in rates of low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression.

Increased screen time has also been associated with a loss of empathy and a lack of altruism.

There are helpful articles specifically for assistance in decreasing phone use below in the “additional resources” section.

“And here the computer, a companion without emotional demands, offers a compromise. You can be a loner, but never alone. You can interact but need never feel vulnerable to another person.” – Sherry Turkle

Gratitude

Many studies have proven that showing gratitude can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. Leading gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. has conducted multiple studies on this topic. His findings confirm that gratitude reduces depression while increasing happiness.

It does this by improving your:

  • Mood
  • Optimism
  • Social bonds
  • Physical health

Starting a new habit is hard. If you are not sure about how to show gratitude in your day-to-day life, perhaps one of the following ideas will help you on your path to gratitude.

Begin a Gratitude Journal – At night before going to bed write down 3 things that you are grateful for. Try not to repeat the same thing. This will force you to be aware of things that you are grateful for throughout the day since you know you will be documenting them at night. Over time this will provide a great way to look back at the high points of your life.

When done on a regular basis having a gratitude journal has been shown to increase optimism by 5% – 15%.

Write a Thank You Note – This will center you with gratitude. Thank you notes are not just for gifts after Christmas, they can also be for how someone has impacted you personally or professionally. There does not need to be a specific occasion or monumental moment that you are thanking someone for.

Added bonus! By surprising someone with a card, you will make them feel valued which will, in turn, make you feel good about making them feel good. It is a win-win all around.

Find the Silver Lining – By looking for the good in every situation, it will minimize the negative. When an unfortunate event occurs, find the positive. It’s raining but the grass is green. I have to stay at home but I have a roof over my head. I don’t like my job but I’m happy to have one. My roommate is messy but at least I have a kitchen to clean. There is almost always a silver lining to be found.

It only takes 8 weeks of practicing gratitude for people to start showing changed brain patterns that lead to greater empathy and happiness.

girl meditating on dock by ocean

Mindfulness

What is mindfulness? People seem to throw this buzzword out a lot lately, but what exactly does being mindful even mean?

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This is often used as a therapeutic technique or done through meditation.

You can practice mindfulness throughout the day or spend a quick 5 minutes every morning. Set a timer so you are not constantly checking the clock. This practice can be difficult to begin so allow yourself some forgiveness throughout the process.

For a quick how-to, read these 5 steps to mindfulness and 7 ways to be mindful daily.

Physical Activity

Studies have shown that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for 60 minutes daily can reduce the risk of major depression by 26%.

There are several positive impacts that exercise makes in regards to fighting mental illness. Exercise leads to changes in the brain including new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.

It also produces endorphins that make you feel good. Additionally, it serves as a distraction from the mundane rut you may be in by breaking the cycle of negative thoughts that are running through your head.

Exercise also leads to:

  • Sharper memory and thinking
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better sleep
  • More energy
  • Stronger resilience

Worried about starting on this journey of physical activity? We aren’t suggesting that you sign up for a triathlon here. Start small, go on a 5-10 minute walk to begin then build up as you see fit.

Wear comfortable clothes, take in and enjoy the scenery, invite a friend, or perhaps do an activity that interests you like shooting basketball hoops or going on a hike.

someone lacing up a tennis shoe

Take A Walk By Yourself

Walking outdoors, whether it’s around your neighborhood or out in the woods, has an enormously grounding impact. From seeing the leaves change colors in the fall, to feeling the sun on your face in the spring, there is so much connection that happens here. Especially the further out in nature you go, the more beauty you can find, and the more centered it can make you feel.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” – Confucius

Try to find the beauty in your surroundings. Sometimes it comes more naturally than others, but it is easier than you might think.

Take a spider web, for example, you certainly do not want to unexpectedly walk through one, but when you notice them in nature, sometimes with the morning dew still present, they are truly beautiful. Think about the work that little spider put into its masterpiece and the fact that this is a survival method. Spiderwebs can truly be amazing sites to behold.

spiderweb in nature on sunny day

Connect with Nature

Research shows that nature exposure is directly correlated to human health.

Being in nature has been shown to be psychologically restorative, to increase engagement in physical activity, and increase social cohesion.

Let’s focus on the social aspect for a moment. Social cohesion is defined as a sense of community, shared norms and values, positive and friendly relationships, and feelings of being accepted and belonging.

This leads to:

  • Enhanced social connections
  • Enhanced social contacts
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • Decreased feelings of inadequate social support
  • Improved self-reported health complaints (including mental balance)

Living in an urban area that has more parks and green space is associated with lower probabilities of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma Hospitalizations
  • Mental Distress
  • Ultimately Mortality

Perhaps you live in an urban area where nature is not as accessible. Try bringing nature indoors. Get a couple of small plants to take care of. This will not only add to the overall aesthetics of your home but also:

  • Purifies the air
  • Soothes the soul
  • Improves sensory awareness
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Enhances focus

“Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Returning To Society

It can be hard to know how to return to normal life after living in solitude. Just know that there are plenty of other people with you on this journey.

First of all, don’t do anything that you are uncomfortable with, with that said you will probably have to push yourself at first.

Since your new “comfort zone” is one of being alone it is time to imagine what your new comfort zone will be. At first, you probably will not want to completely immerse yourself in social activities.

Start with one step at a time, get together with a friend for coffee or a walk outside. It is important to put effort into and invest in your relationships. Creating meaningful connections helps enhance your quality of life.

Connect with others. If you are unable to see people physically, make sure you use the appropriate avenues of technology (in moderation) to maintain meaningful relationships with the people in your life.

Allow yourself some forgiveness and grace.

young woman in teal stretching at home

Additional Resources

As you can see, there is a direct correlation between prolonged isolation and mental health concerns. Use the following resources to find additional facts and coping tips.

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