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Social Isolation:7 Secrets to Overcome the Invisible Enemy

May 19, 2023

10 min read

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Author : United We Care
Social Isolation:7 Secrets to Overcome the Invisible Enemy

Introduction

We open Instagram and other socials constantly, we post the minutest details about our lives online, and yet the moment we catch a break, loneliness crashes on us like a big wave. Maybe this is what Lauv talks about in his song “Modern Loneliness” [1]. There are many connections, but social isolation is becoming a household phenomenon, almost a pandemic. And this social isolation has many negative effects on people’s mental as well as physical Health. If you have been wondering about these issues, read the article below as it explores what social isolation is and how you can fight this hidden enemy.

Social Isolation Defined

Social isolation refers to a sense of disconnection and lack of interactions with others in the community [2]. Many people use the terms social isolation and loneliness interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Basically social isolation is the objective state of having fewer contacts or networks in your  community. On the other hand, loneliness is a subjective and negative emotional experience that comes when we realize that we have fewer connections [3]. Yet, they are so close to each other that most literature and policy use these terms together.

A socially isolated person stays alone and is less likely to participate in society. As a result of this, they also have less access to material and social resources that are usually available in the community. For example, if you are socially isolated and do not know many people around you, you might find it difficult to locate a doctor nearby, while others might just ask around and find a referral. [4]. As for loneliness, it is not only about the number of people in one’s surrounding but also the quality of relationships [3]. In other words, you can be really popular and have many connections, which would mean you are not socially isolated, but if the quality of these connections is poor, you can still feel lonely.

These days social isolation is on the rise due to many global trends. An increase in nuclear families and urbanization had already contributed to this rise but after the COVID-19 pandemic an increase in remote work has enhanced the problem. Ironically, social media, which is supposed to make us more connected, has also contributed to increased loneliness and social isolation. They make it seem that we are all connected but in reality the connection on these applications is rarely genuine [5].

Types of Social Isolation

Not all social isolation are the same. Below are some types of social isolation:

Types of Social Isolation

  • Social Loneliness or Social Network Isolation: When your network is small or limited, you become socially isolated. This can happen due to many reasons ranging from past experiences to big changes in life. For instance, when you have moved to a new place or you experience a big life change like marriage, your social network is bound to change. It will reduce in size and you might feel socially isolated [3] [6].
  • Emotional Isolation: occurs when individuals feel disconnected from others on an emotional level. This can arise from strained relationships, lack of intimacy, and finding it difficult to express their emotions or seek support [3] [6]. One example of this is people in relationships where the connection with their partner or family is strained. They will have people around but will feel isolated inside.
  • Existential Isolation: a feeling and realization that one is always separate from others and the world. No one can ever fully understand what it is to be you, and when people face this realization, they experience an intense feeling of loneliness and crisis [6]. Existential Psychotherapists recognize this loneliness and work on it to help the person come to terms with this given of all human lives.

There are many other features of social isolation. For instance, depending on what caused a person’s isolation, it can be voluntary (such as what writers might do to increase productivity) or involuntary [7]. In terms of duration, it can be long-term, where the person is unable to find people and connections for them for a long time, or short-lived, where the person is lonely for just a couple of months or weeks [6]. Finally, depending on which level it has been occurring at, it may be at a community level (ex: Marginalization of a whole community/race/religion) or an organization level (ex: school, work, etc.), or a level around the person (ex: family or friends) [7].

Effects of Social Isolation

Irrespective of type and causes, loneliness and social isolation almost always adversely affect a person. In fact, research has shown that social isolation is a risk factor for all diseases that have a high risk of mortality [5]. Some impacts include:

  1. Increased chances of Negative Health Behaviors:socially isolated individuals are likelier to engage in harmful behaviors like smoking, consuming alcohol, overeating, less physical activity, risky sexual behaviors, etc. Since fewer individuals in the environment act as a caution, these behaviors are also maintained [2].
  2. Has Negative Effects on Mental Health:social isolation is closely related to depression, anxiety, suicide, stress, and dementia [2]. People who are isolated are less likely to be disciplined about their sleep and routine. Especially when they already have some mental health issues, the absence of social support makes things worse.
  3. Can Cause Cognitive Decline:There is a faster decline in cognition, more negativity, poor executive functioning, more feelings of threat, and an impact on attention as well as decision-making [8]
  4. Negative Effects on the Biology of a Person:Studies have indicated that biological pathways become impacted when a person feels isolated. Cortisol levels in the person increase and it eventually creates a negative effect on blood pressure, heart rate, and immune system of the person [5] [2]. Some researchers have also found that there is a strong relationship between social isolation and problems of the cardiovascular system such as hypertension, and risk of heart attack [2].
  5. Can Reduce Social Skills if Prolonged: Some researchers have conducted studies where they could notice that the social behavior of people change when they are lonely. They start viewing others negatively, stop responding in social interactions and sometimes have inappropriate patterns of self-disclosure, that is they might share personal information without any need for it [3].

How to Overcome the Effects of Social Isolation

How to Overcome the Effects of Social Isolation

Before you even begin fighting this enemy, you need to find out how it has affected you. Acknowledge and accept that you might be feeling lonely. It is absolutely okay to feel this way because as humans, the desire to connect is natural. And there are many things you can do to lessen this impact. For instance [9] [10]:

  1. Spend time on Meaningful Relationships:All relationships require time and effort. And when you are feeling disconnected, you must expect that for you forming new relationships will be hard work. You might need to start spending more time in social situations and for social relationships. You might also need to appear vulnerable in front of others and reach out to them to form meaningful bonds with them.
  2. Engage with Community and Volunteer:When you are new to a place or do not know many people, finding new connections randomly can be difficult. One good way to increase your interaction in the community is by joining clubs, groups, teams, or community drives that take place. You can also volunteer for different NGOs or events because this will help you meet new people in the area.
  3. Use Technology:Chances are that it is already a part of your life, so why not use it for good? Not all social media is bad. You can use technology to reach out to your old friends and family. You can also join groups and communities online, but as you do this, remember to not go overboard and balance it out by having in-person interactions as well.
  4. Consider adopting a pet: It may sound a bit selfish when put like this, but pets are a big source of comfort and can help you come out of this feeling of isolation. When we care for another being, it helps us stay in a routine as well. Adopting a pet from a rescue shelter can help both them and you.
  5. Seek Professional Support:Loneliness and social isolation sometimes come when you have been expriencing a hidden mental health issue and you find that no one understands you. It can do you good to seek help from a therapist especially if you are feeling anxiety, stress, and depression, alongside loneliness.
  6. Stay Active: When your health is in a good condition, you are more willing to interact with others and one way to stay healthy is through daily exercise. Further, if you choose to go to a gym or some class, you might find people to connect with there.
  7. Explore Spirituality:Spirituality is a heavily misunderstood area of our lives, but when explored, it can provide you with the means to find meaning in your life. For those who are suffering from existential social isolation, this can be one of the best solutions.

Conclusion

Social isolation is a new pandemic that is slowly creeping into our lives and taking hold of our minds and body. We feel lonely and dejected and, in turn, become at risk for more serious issues like depression and anxiety.  But, it is something we can fight and ward off. After all, humans are social animals, and building social connections is something that comes to us naturally.

If you are a person who is struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness, you can contact the experts at United We Care. At United We Care, a team of wellness and mental health experts will guide you with the best methods for well-being.

References

  1. “Modern loneliness,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Loneliness  (accessed May 16, 2023).
  2. N. Leigh-Hunt et al., “An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness,” Public Health, vol. 152, pp. 157–171, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2017.07.035
  3. D. Russell, C. E. Cutrona, J. Rose, and K. Yurko, “Social and emotional loneliness: An examination of Weiss’s typology of loneliness.,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 1313–1321, 1984. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.46.6.1313
  4. Social isolation among older individuals: The relationship to mortality …, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235604/  (accessed May 16, 2023).
  5. B. A. Primack et al., “Social media use and perceived social isolation among young adults in the U.S.,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 1–8, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010
  6. Blaze TEST Blaze Admin (DO NOT DELETE), “Facts and statistics,” Campaign to End Loneliness, https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/facts-and-statistics/ (accessed May 16, 2023).
  7. I. M. Lubkin, P. D. Larsen, D. L. Biordi, and N. R. Nicholson, in Chronic illness: Impact and intervention, Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013, pp. 97–131
  8. J. T. Cacioppo and L. C. Hawkley, “Perceived social isolation and cognition,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 13, no. 10, pp. 447–454, 2009. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.06.005
  9. “Stay connected to combat loneliness and social isolation,” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/infographics/stay-connected-combat-loneliness-and-social-isolation  (accessed May 16, 2023).
  10. “Loneliness and social isolation – tips for staying connected,” National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/loneliness-and-social-isolation-tips-staying-connected  (accessed May 16, 2023).

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Author : United We Care

Founded in 2020, United We Care (UWC) is providing mental health and wellness services at a global level, UWC utilizes its team of dedicated and focused professionals with expertise in mental healthcare, to solve 2 essential missing components in the market, sustained user engagement and program efficacy/outcomes.

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