The phrase social isolation has gained quite some attention in today's fast-paced society. So, the question is, what is it really? Why do we need to pay attention to it? What is its connection with mental health?
Social isolation can be identified as a state of being where an individual feels separated from his or her social connections, both physically and emotionally. Individuals who may feel socially isolated can experience it either intentionally or unintentionally. Understanding more about social isolation, especially self-isolation and its relationship with one's overall mental health, is therefore absolutely crucial.
What Is Social Isolation?
Social isolation, or social withdrawal, takes place when people start to feel disconnected from their friends, loved ones, and communities on a day-to-day basis. It can be temporary or prolonged in nature. A temporary state of social isolation was experienced by all of us during the high waves of pandemic.
Self-isolation, specifically, refers to the conscious decision made by an individual in order to move away from their social surroundings, which is often a response to life-altering events or one's personal will.
It is important to know that while self-isolation can lead to a sense of safety and security, it can also have hazardous consequences for one's mental health and well-being. Extended periods of isolation have been linked to a greater risk for medical conditions like heart-related issues, high blood pressure, decreased immunity levels, and a decline in one's longevity.
Self-Isolation and Mental Health: Cost of Loneliness?
Humans are social species, and social interactions play a crucial role in maintaining mental and emotional health. Whenever people start to feel isolated, their mental as well as physical well-being can be greatly affected. Loneliness, a consequence of social isolation, can lead a person to feel sad, anxious, and depressed. This may also contribute to the rise of many underlying psychological conditions within an individual.
Being socially isolated can result in the impairment of cognitive functions such as memory, problem-solving, and attention. Lack of exposure to everyday communal interactions may result in cognitive decline, specifically in older adults.
Social support and belonging act as a defense against the stressors of life. Withdrawal diminishes access to this support, boosts stress levels, and gives rise to chronic stress-related disorders.
Coping Techniques for Social Isolation
It’s typical for someone who feels isolated or withdrawn to have constant problems with their mental health. However, there are effective steps and strategies you can take to cope with isolation and feel more connected within and around yourself:
1) Hold a Supportive Hand
Stay regularly in touch with friends, loved ones, or supportive communities. Be actively engaged in communication through voice or video calls, texts, or emails. Say yes to people and plans that may assist you in recovering from social isolation. Disconnection is highly linked to mental health issues.
2) Stick to Routines
Committing to and establishing everyday routines can bring purpose, balance, and stability to your life. Form clear goals, create new hobbies, and stick to a healthy lifestyle in terms of food, sleep, and restfulness. The first sign of a mental health illness is a disruption in routine. Be aware of this and take steps proactively.
3) Participate in Communities
Take part in digital communities, forums, or groups that are similar to your interests. Digital or virtual interactions with people can help lower the physical gap caused by isolation. Now that we are shifting to an offline model, try to have more in-person interactions.
4) Adopt Self-Care
Focus on activities that promote self-care and well-being. Exercise abundantly and start with relaxation techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and optimum sleep. Taking care of oneself is similar to watering a plant in order for it to bear fruit--adopt these practices and witness the magic yourself.
5) Seek Professional Help
Reach out to a mental health professional if the feeling of isolation doesn't seem to go away. They may be able to provide you with the right guidance and insight into things that you may not be aware of. This can be done by identifying underlying mental health issues and ultimately moving towards a better future.
For people of all ages, social connection is vital for their everyday survival. We, as humans, are naturally tuned to rely on each other for care and support. When the social connection is not present, most of us are susceptible to being depressed or sick and are at greater risk of early demise.
Social isolation can lead to significant damage to one's overall mental well-being. Identifying these damages and the impact caused by isolation is vital for managing emotional well-being. By holding a supportive hand, involving yourself in social connections, and taking good care of yourself, you can navigate your way to a life of optimal well-being.
Janvi Kapur is a counselor with a Master's degree in applied psychology with a specialization in clinical psychology.
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