More people are feeling lonely now than ever before. While feeling lonely is a normal emotion, some of us prefer solitude than others. Dealing with chronic or intense periods of isolation and loneliness can add to a more significant health issue.
Isolation doesn’t happen while being alone, but it can also be something people feel in social settings. Isolation is more about the lack of connection instead of the lack of people. We all have the instinctive desire and need to connect with others, and when that need is unmet, we start feeling alone. Extroverts are more prone than introverts to the adverse effects of isolation because they’re at greater risk of low moods when alone.
The difference between chronic isolation and healthy solitude.
Everyone has moments where they want to be alone to reflect, recharge, or do something for themselves. It can be another form of self-care when we temporarily shut out the world and stay in our bubble. However, at what point does healthy solitude become unhealthy? When transitioning from healthy alone to chronic isolation, we go into a discouraging head space. This transition happens when we begin to focus on our loss of relationships or our feelings of disconnection.
Some people might not be consciously aware of this transition, but their minds and bodies will show the harmful effects of isolation. Feelings of isolation can occur when we focus on what’s missing, further disconnecting us from others and life. Our life becomes a burden, and our mind and body will exhibit symptoms that reflect that heaviness. Here are some signs of social isolation and how to fix them.
You feel isolated around others.
Suppose you battle with feeling isolated even when you’re in relationships or around other people. In that case, those feelings may indicate a lack of connection or a more significant underlying mental health issue. Go inward and ask yourself what’s causing those feelings. Lacking relationships with others could mean you need to be around people you find more interesting, who you have more in common with, and who align with your personality, values, and morals.
You feel tired more regularly.
People who deal with social isolation might feel more tired than usual. If they experience chronic social isolation, being social and engaging with others could make them feel exhausted. When you feel drained consistently, that could lead to trouble sleeping, poor diet, or a weakened immune system and other issues, ultimately affecting your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
You struggle to connect in ways that once came effortlessly.
If you feel like you can’t connect with others on a deeper level, something that once came effortlessly, that might signify a more significant issue. This could also be true if the connections you do make feel non-fulfilling and surface-level. This disconnection could feel never-ending, which might make you feel misunderstood.
You start showing signs of depression.
Chronic social isolation and depression often go hand in hand. When it becomes a more significant issue, there are some common presentations. It would help if you kept an eye out for signs like continued isolation, a sense of numbness, unexplainable changes in eating and sleeping, or negative thinking. Other less common symptoms include guilt, irritability, moving or talking slower, and restlessness.
You’ve picked up harmful coping habits.
When experiencing something we’re unsure of how to manage or get rid of, we tend to find ourselves using unhealthy habits to survive. Social isolation can manifest in behaviors like smoking, drug misuse, overeating, or excessive alcohol consumption. These behaviors serve as coping strategies for people who feel alone to subside their emotions and connect with a substance instead of others. Feelings of loneliness and isolation may be critical factors in developing an addiction. If you’re using binge eating, drugs, alcohol, or other potentially addictive and unhealthy behaviors to manage isolation, there may be a more significant issue.
You struggle with suicide ideation.
Chronic social isolation can lead to feeling like you lack purpose. Some people ask themselves, “Why am I here?” or start thinking they don’t want to burden anyone. The statement of not wanting to burden anyone is significant to pay attention to because people say that when they feel suicidal. If your thoughts shift in this direction, it would be best to reach out to a mental health support line or professional to get the help you need.
Getting help from a support space or mental health professional is one of the most urgent and best ways to address your issues. Still, you can do a few other things to decrease those feelings of isolation. One way is to practice direct communication. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the people in our lives what we need. However, practicing direct communication can go a long way. Humans are a social species; we need each other to thrive and survive. Directly discuss your needs with people in your inner circle and do the same for them. Ask them what they want most or desire, and help them attain it if you can. Even when we feel sad, assisting others can lift our mood and boost meaningfulness in our lives, making us feel better about ourselves.
Another way to decrease your feelings of isolation is to stop using social media if it makes you feel worse. With our hyper-connectivity and social media, people will inevitably feel like they don’t have enough, are not good enough, or are not doing enough. How could you not think that way when constantly exposed to what everyone else is doing or choosing to showcase? This kind of constant comparison can make feelings of isolation and loneliness worse, so it’s important to take a social media break to recalibrate.
When battling isolation, we typically convince ourselves that the people around us wouldn’t understand and our situation is unique, which typically isn’t the case. When you feel like others can’t relate to your situation, you tend to make yourself feel more isolated. However, when we understand that other people also feel isolated, our focus shifts from ourselves to reaching out to people who may need our support. Wanting to be alone isn’t an issue. However, when you become too isolated, problems come in.