While the majority of the world has entered a state of emergency, there’s more than just a biological threat to the human race–social isolation.
As social creatures, we thrive in environments where there are interactions with other people. We are born into social groups and live our entire lives learning how to communicate with family, friends, colleagues, and other members of society.
Being social is the dominant force that drives our thoughts, behavior, actions, and neural activity.
So, what happens to us when our daily routine is forced to abruptly stop due to quarantine, social distancing, and the impending threat of social isolation?
Research on Social Isolation
How we perceive social isolation can have a direct impact on our mental health. Obviously, personalities differ between people.
Some of us enjoy our time alone and can adapt to longer periods with minimal social contact. While others, who rely heavily on social interactions, may experience a rapid decline in health and happiness.
In a study that used a self-assessment to measure loneliness, people who were forced to move reported higher feelings of loneliness and lower mental health scores.
Being forced to relocate is an “event that separates some individuals from their neighbors, friends and family, and hence increases the subjective sense of isolation of these persons.”
The study went on to discuss that feelings of isolation caused negative consequences for people’s psychological well-being and that the effects were larger for women and older people.
- In a longitudinal study on elderly people, social isolation can result in frailty — poor grip strength, slow walking speed, low physical activity, exhaustion, and unintentional weight loss.
- Caregivers, when compared to the general population, are at a higher risk to be socially isolated and experience a significantly lower quality of life.
- Social isolation results in higher risks of premature death due to cardiovascular disease mortality or cancer-related mortality.
Symptoms of Social Isolation
Social isolation, whether self-imposed or state-imposed, has a direct impact on the way we go about our day-to-day activities.
Instead of waking up, grabbing a coffee, and running out the door to work or play — now — we wake up and stay inside the walls of our home all day.
Its funny, isn’t it?
Healthy habits are difficult to make while unhealthy habits seem to march in place and it can happen in less than a week.
It starts with binge-watching the latest Netflix series. But, because you had so many salty snacks and sugary drinks you find yourself unable to sleep. So, you check out Pandemic then flip on The Platform before you realize the sun is coming up to start a new day.
You fall asleep, finally! However, it’s 4:47 pm by the time you wake up. There’s nothing to do. Your government has granted $2000 to cover the loss of your job for the month so you reach into a case of beer. A cold one becomes a case gone and next thing you know it you’re mixing Jack Daniels with whatever drinks left in the fridge until consciousness slowly slips away.
The symptoms of social isolation are almost as invisible as the coronavirus itself with the potential to be much more deadly.
Unhealthy Habits + Social Isolation
- Disrupted sleep patterns;
- Eating more junk food, fast food, and other nutritionless food.
- Picking up risky habits (i.e., drinking heavily, doing drugs, and smoking cigarettes);
- Increased likelihood of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues;
- ‘Fight-or-flight’ response to stress resulting in a deteriorated immune system.
How Can We Survive?
If chatting with your local butcher was your social fix for the week…
Or, meeting up with friends for a drink on the weekend was your thing…
Or, working in a factory using your body all day was how you made a living…
Or, gossiping with your hairdresser was your monthly de-stressor…
Or, whatever it was you did before this global crisis…
There is a way to survive the insanity of this social isolation.
As Darwin implied, we must “adapt or die.”
This means putting a hell of a lot of effort into making a lifestyle change.
Is it going to be easy?
Perhaps it is. Or, maybe not.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all, there are many things you can try to occupy your time:
- Read more books;
- Pick up the phone and call all your old friends;
- Learn how to draw, knit, or craft.
- Do 100 pushups, situps, and squats at some point in the day.
- Double down on yourself and build an online business.
Whatever you do, whatever you decide, we’re all in this together.
Just hang in there, stay healthy, and — don’t let the negative effects of social isolation kill the person you are inside.