Last year, the world was exposed to an unforeseen occurrence: a novel, deadly virus. The covid-19 pandemic did not merely alter the way the world used to function; it also drastically changed the lives of numerous people all around the world. As lockdowns were enforced, a surge in mental health issues was reported, leading health experts to conduct studies to determine how social isolation effects may manifest as another pandemic, one equally as dangerous as the coronavirus.
The link between social isolation and mental health is backed up by research that suggests that adolescents and older adults may be more at risk of developing depression and anxiety along with an increased chance of attempting or dying by suicide. However, this does not imply that people of other ages are safe from the damaging effects of isolation on physical and psychological health.
With the world still observing social distancing constraints, courtesy of the virus, many individuals are left facing hard times alone, locked up in their homes with little to no interaction with others. While there may not be much one can do about the safety measures, there are several coping strategies that one can exercise to overcome loneliness during these dark times.
This article addresses:
- What is social isolation and loneliness?
- Social isolation effects and causes.
- Link between social isolation and mental well-being.
- How to cope with loneliness and depression?
Social Isolation and Loneliness
Social isolation refers to the lack or absence of interaction, relation, and contact among people due to enforced or voluntary separation. Although quite similar in meaning and often used interchangeably, the terms loneliness and isolation do differ slightly. Loneliness is a subjective feeling that one can experience even when surrounded by numerous people, while isolation is an objective circumstance in which one is not in proximity to other people. Social isolation for a prolonged period can often lead to loneliness.
Regardless of their differences, both are equally as dangerous for a person’s mental, physical, and cognitive well-being. It is difficult to measure who and how many people are affected by it but, several reports suggest that millennials and Gen-Z are most likely to report feeling lonely and depressed. According to a study by the University of California, San Diego, In the United States, adults aged around 20 are most likely to be lonely.
However, some contradictory reports suggest that isolation and loneliness are more likely to affect older adults and the elderly. According to the social isolation statistics report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), about one-third of adults older than 45 reports feeling lonely while nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.
Nevertheless, social isolation affects all age groups, genders, and ethnicities alike, with some more at risk of experiencing the harmful effects of loneliness than others. No doubt, lockdown enforcements and social restraints ordered by the government are essential for protection against covid-19. But, this security comes with a price of its own: a possible surge in mental and physical disorders associated with physical and emotional isolation.
Social Isolation: Effects and Causes
Feelings of loneliness are a rather common occurrence. Many people feel lonely from time to time and may isolate themselves from other people. But, these feelings are usually short-lived and subside fairly quickly. However, when the issue of loneliness becomes chronic, it can lead to severe adverse effects that can put an individual’s long-term mental and physical health at risk.
Apart from the psychological effects of loneliness, there is evidence that it can impact a person’s physical and cognitive health as well. Research claims social isolation is associated with premature mortality among adults. Additionally, there is substantial proof that social isolation can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, stroke, dementia, a decline in immune function and cognition along with poor sleep, hygiene, and eating habits.
There are several causes of social isolation — voluntary and enforced — including:
- Physical disabilities and mobility issues that prevent a person from going out and socializing.
- Exposure to domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV).
- Unemployment may cultivate feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, leading one to isolate themselves.
- Losing a partner or a loved one often leaves the other person feeling lonely both, emotionally and spiritually,
- Childhood abuse and Adverse Childhood Experiences.
- Mental health disorders such as addiction, depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem are among the major culprits behind loneliness and isolation.
- Cognitive impairment, like memory loss: Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Abandonment from family, especially among older adults and the elderly.
Social Isolation and Mental Health
Solitude is not always a bad thing, especially when one utilizes it for the betterment of their mind and body and indulges in positive and productive activities during this time. For example, isolating oneself to do healthy exercises, meditation, and relaxation where one does not feel lonely even while alone is healthy isolation.
The problem occurs when isolation is undesired or forced. This can lead to feelings of loneliness, sorrow, and depression. This kind of unhealthy isolation can lead to a multitude of mental health disorders. Symptoms related to unhealthy isolation include:
- Dreading socializing and canceling plans.
- Poor eating habits and poor hygiene.
- Not indulging in fruitful activities during the period of solitude.
- Feelings of withdrawal and immense despair while alone.
- No desire to care for oneself.
- Hopelessness, irritability, and aggression.
According to research, social isolation can be twice as harmful to an individual’s physical and mental health as obesity. Unhealthy solitude can impact a person’s behavior and psychological health, or worsen it in the case of people who had already been dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc.
Experts strongly believe that the recent surge in mental health issues among the general public is closely linked to the social distancing measures being imposed for safety against the virus. For people who had already been combating mental disorders pre-virus, this could be critical, as they no longer have easy access to mental health care services. The bottom line is, social isolation and mental health are closely associated, and unhealthy isolation, more often than not, leads to feelings of extreme despair, which can worsen and transform into harmful mental health disorders over time.
How to Cope with Loneliness and Depression During Covid-19
Quarantine has been a difficult time for everyone. But it has been especially challenging for those who had already been suffering from mental and physical disabilities. Feeling isolated and separated from everyone else and having to navigate your way through these stressful times can appear impossible at times but there are ways you can fight through them without losing yourself in the process. If you’re unsure how to cope with loneliness and isolation during covid, here are some ways you can do so!
Be Alone, Not Lonely
We might not have much choice when it comes to social distancing because it’s necessary to manage the spread of the disease. But we do have a choice about feeling lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind that can be prevented through determination. You can still maintain connections and relations even while living alone because staying connected doesn’t necessarily require physical contact.
Use your phones for the purpose they were invented for! Schedule daily call sessions with friends, send a handwritten letter to your loved ones if you’re not comfortable using technology, email your family, video chat, or stay connected through texting!
Indulge in Self-care
It cannot be stressed enough how important self-care is for the mental and physical well-being of an individual. Social loneliness can put you in a downcast mood, often causing you to neglect your hygiene, sleep, and eating habits. Indulging in self-care habits to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by pessimistic thoughts and fall into depression is a great way to cope with loneliness during quarantine.
Not only can it help your mind stay busy and away from distressing thoughts, it can help you connect with and improve your relationship with yourself — which is often neglected when you’re too occupied with maintaining your relationship with others.
Social Media and Mental Health Apps.
Social media is a great remedy for loneliness during these times. You can overcome loneliness by connecting with people on social media. Talking to them about their quarantine experience and how they’re coping with isolation can help a great deal. Or, perhaps, you could share your ideas on how to cope with loneliness!
If you feel like you need access to quick and easy mental health-related help, there are several apps on the app store that focus on mental healthcare; like Mooditude. It is an application loaded with exciting activities to help you improve your mental health. It offers various features designed specifically to promote a strong and healthy mind; such as 24/7 chat forums where you can get help from therapists and talk to people that are dealing with the same issues as you, guided meditations, journaling, mood tracking along with several other engaging activities to help you combat feelings of depression and loneliness.
Experiment With New Hobbies
Life begins to feel mundane after a while, demanding a twist, something exciting that you’ve never done before. Especially, when you’re cooped up at home all day with nothing but four walls to stare at, it is bound to get boring.
Experimenting with new hobbies is an exciting way to discover your hidden skills. You might find out you enjoy painting, or maybe you’ll surprise yourself with your culinary skills! Here’s a list of hobbies you can experiment with at home and find something enjoyable to add to your schedule:
- Painting and drawing.
- Writing a diary, or a journal.
- Baking and cooking.
- Knitting and crocheting.
Being alone at home is bad. Being sad and alone is worse. Being sad, alone, and idle is the absolute worst! Imagine you’re depressed, and on top of that, you have absolutely nothing to do to distract yourself from those feelings. How about, instead of wallowing in misery, you distract yourself by doing fun activities? But what activities could you do cooped up in your home? Plenty! Here’s a list of things you can do to distract yourself when you feel your mood declining and the loneliness starts getting to your head:
- Watch a movie, preferably a comedy.
- Read a novel, poetry, or a magazine.
- Listen to upbeat music.
- Watch interesting podcasts.
- Try out new recipes.
- Craft new things with recycled materials.
- Take a relaxing bath.
- Indulge in activities to improve self-love.
- Exercise regularly.
- Practice yoga and meditation.
Organize Your Home and Your Emotions
Decluttering your home is an essential, but forgotten part of strengthening your mental well-being. Loneliness, social isolation, and mental health issues, like depression can cause you to neglect your home. Unorganized living space does nothing but makes you even more anxious.
Dedicate some time, every day to organize your home. It doesn’t have to be all at once, as that can be overwhelming. Take it to step by step, start with your bedroom, your office next, and then, maybe the kitchen. Gradually, you’ll notice, as your surroundings begin to feel more organized, your emotional and spiritual health will begin to improve too.
Still, if nothing works and you notice that your mental health is continuously deteriorating, seeking online counseling from a mental health expert would be the best option.
The connection between social isolation and mental health has garnered concern from health experts who are worried about what it would mean for those already battling mental health. They believe it is crucial that everyone understands its dangers and knows how to cope with loneliness on their own during these tough times. Without a doubt, it is a difficult time for all of us, but it too will pass soon. In the meantime, our responsibility is to be our own protectors and to ensure that we make it through this crisis, happy and healthy.
How are you managing your mental wellbeing during covid-19?