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4 min read

Why Do People Isolate Themselves, and What Are the Effects on Mental Health?

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world engaged in self-isolation to avoid the spread of infectious disease. While this helped in some ways to stem the spread, there have been significant mental health consequences.

What Is Self-Isolation?

In general, self-isolation is the act of distancing oneself from others. Self-isolation may be done for many reasons...because of physical health problems, because of fear of social interaction, or for (in the case of Covid-19) public health. However, social isolation and loneliness are closely connected, and studies published during and after the pandemic have shown that widespread social isolation has caused challenges for many.

Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation and Loneliness

The effects of physical distancing can be different for different people, and for some periods of social isolation, it can be a good thing. Some people will avoid human interaction for periods of rejuvenation or meditative purposes.

However, when you are socially isolated for longer periods, it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Social connections are a key indicator of mental health, and social support has even been shown to increase longevity and quality of life.

Reasons You May Isolate Yourself From Others

Even before the pandemic, a Pew Research study conducted in 2018 reported that one in 10 people felt lonely or isolated most or all of the time. Social isolation and loneliness have been a widespread issue for some time, and there are several reasons that people may engage in this behavior.

External Factors

There may be external factors at play when it comes to social isolation. People with certain medical conditions may have to avoid public places to stay healthy and seek connection in other ways. Older adults often become socially isolated as they outlive their friends and family members, and may develop symptoms of depression that make this tendency toward social isolation worse.

Post-Lockdown Anxiety

After lockdown, many people have found it difficult to get back into the swing of their normal social interactions. Trauma can lead to anxiety, and anxiety can lead to avoiding social interaction.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition (previously called a mental illness), that can cause a person to become socially isolated, to the detriment of their day-to-day life activities and relationships. It can be important to overcome social insecurities and fears so that social isolation doesn't lead to a negative cycle of thoughts and behavior.

Manage Your Energy in Social Situations

Some people will take refuge in periods of social isolation because they are introverted and need to recharge their social battery. Sometimes there are a lot of mandatory events that come hard and fast, so these people may impose self-isolation for a few days or weeks to get themselves back into balance. This type of social isolation is typically not harmful.

You Have Low Self-Confidence

Low self-esteem can be a driver of social isolation and loneliness. Social interactions can be stressful for people with low self-esteem and therefore they may tend to avoid being around others. However, this type of social isolation can often be detrimental and make the issue worse.

Tips for Managing a Tendency to Self-Isolate

If you find that your mental health is taking a hit because you tend to be socially isolated, it may be time to take action. While periods of social isolation can be good for you under certain circumstances, too much can be detrimental. Here are some strategies you can use to feel better.

Tip for Young Adults: Quality Over Quantity

Often, when we leave high school or college to join the working world, we can tend to become overwhelmed by the idea of socializing. The same goes for the parents of young children, or people who move to a different town. Big life changes can leave us feeling adrift and lonely. However, work toward creating quality friendships, rather than feeling that you have to have a huge friend group. One or two friends who offer valuable connections can be far more beneficial than the largest group of surface friendships.

Use Technology to Overcome Isolation and Loneliness

Whether you are someone who is managing a chronic illness, living in an area without like-minded people, or having difficulty maintaining long-distance relationships, use current technology to your advantage to create social connections. There are more ways than ever to reach out through messaging apps, video chat, and online gaming. Online relationships can be a great solution for social isolation.

Seek Out Relationships With Those You Feel Comfortable With

Don't waste your time on social interaction with people who aren't the right fit. It can be difficult to maintain friendships if you give your energy to people who aren't really on the same wavelength.

When to Start Seeing a Therapist

Sometimes, to address social isolation, you have to address mental health issues. Certain mental health conditions can lead to negative thoughts and low self-esteem and you may use social isolation as a self-induced coping mechanism. Anxiety, major depression, reactions to trauma, or serious health conditions can lead us to feel socially isolated. And when we allow that social isolation, it can then lead to a vicious cycle of negative thinking and further social withdrawal. In the case of older adults, it may even lead to cognitive decline.

Talk therapy can help with many mental health conditions that can make us feel lonely and negatively impact our mental health. Mental health professionals can offer tools and strategies through therapy to help manage these symptoms and stay connected with family members and friends.

Social connection can be a protective factor for mental health, as well as physical health. Spending time with others can improve cognitive function, help us manage stress, protect the body from chronic inflammation, and be an indicator for longevity. Don't allow social isolation to interfere with your mental health. If you find that social interactions are few and far between, or if social anxiety or depressive symptoms are getting in the way of social contact, contact a mental health therapist to get you back on the path of building healthy social relationships.

Finding Social Support in Austin, TX

Social isolation can happen to almost anyone under the right circumstances. And yet, social contact can be an important factor in health and well-being.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, we have a team of doctoral-level Austin psychotherapists who are experienced at diagnosing and treating all kinds of mental health conditions, including those that may lead to self-isolation.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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