Norwegian startup No Isolation, a company that sells tools designed to facilitate communication among the isolated, defines isolation as an objective experience, a state in which a person has few social contacts. This is as opposed to loneliness, which is defined as a subjective experience that may result from isolation.
No matter how you slice it, social isolation is a painful experience that can lead to more harmful effects than simple loneliness. The American Psychological Association notes that social isolation can lead to depression and may cause poor sleep quality, cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity.
Risk factors for social isolation include living alone or having family members who work long hours outside the home, being without much family or friend support, living geographically distant from people or in a rural area, having a disability, language barriers, or not having transportation.
According to The Guardian, anywhere between 22 percent to 75 percent of American adults are persistently lonely.
Here are some things you can do to mitigate the harmful effects of social isolation.
Sometimes, living alone or being alone for long stretches of time can be debilitating. If you have anxiety or another disability, it can be difficult to do what you need to do in order to stay connected with society.
Pick up the phone and call a friend or a family member with whom you haven’t spoken in a while. Even over the phone, a half-hour conversation can energize you.
If you have family members nearby but feel cut off from them, ask them to spend more quality time with you.
Simple company like a dog or a cat can also bring relief. Pets offer friendship and loyalty, along with a positive presence in your home.
Getting a job can also be a way to alleviate social isolation. Unless it’s a job working remotely, you are almost guaranteed to spend time around people, and that can alleviate the pain of social isolation.
Go Outside and Explore
Take daily walks, attend sporting or other events, or go to the park or a museum. Ask to join an intramural game of basketball you see going on at the park. You never know who you might meet who may be interested in striking up a friendly conversation.
If you don’t have access to transportation, consider ride-sharing services such as Lyft, or use public transportation. Once you’re out and about, don’t be afraid to be the one to strike up conversations with the people you see.
Volunteer at a local food shelter. This may be more difficult during COVID, but many shelters are practicing social distancing. Protect yourself with a face mask accordingly.
Use Social Media, But Only to a Point
Social media can be a great way to connect with friends and family. If you have a disability such as social anxiety disorder or suffer from agoraphobia, social media may provide a safe outlet.
Use caution, however. Social media can depress you if used in excess.
The prolonged use of social media sites such as Facebook may be related to signs and symptoms of depression, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Experts recommend you limit your time online to no longer than 30 minutes per day. If you just can’t fight the urge, at least monitor your health. Are you taking care of yourself? Make sure you get plenty of rest and food, and go outdoors for breaks. The sun provides vitamin D, which has many health benefits.
Learn to Enjoy Time Spent with Yourself
It can be a tough pill to swallow, but sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you are socially isolated with seemingly few or no outlets. The best medicine in some cases may be to learn to enjoy being alone, and just be.
Play interactive online games with friends or strangers on your devices to feel less alone. If you feel inspired, read a book. Watching good movies can also have a therapeutic effect and make you feel less alone.
Being alone, especially for introverts, can actually be a cathartic time for hatching plans for the future, brainstorming, and a chance to recharge.
If you are an extrovert, being alone may be more challenging, but you still can learn to enjoy yourself.
In fact, for extroverts who normally seek energy by being around people, being alone can help you learn more about yourself than you ever could at a party.
When you’ve tried everything else and you still feel socially isolated, it may be best to seek professional help.
Just being able to talk to someone alleviates social isolation. Try therapy with a professional counselor.
If you don’t have mental health insurance, free services are available. If you text “HOME” to 741-741, you will be connected anonymously to loneliness crisis counselors who are available 24/7 and may be able to point you in the direction of more comprehensive services.
At the least, they will listen to your problems and offer free support.
If you don’t have access to the outside world or lack mental health insurance, and don’t want to use the text line, consider affordable services such as BetterHelp, which offers video and phone therapy sessions.
Being alone can be tough for all of us. But there are ways to cope. You probably have friends who would be willing to talk to you if you picked up the phone and called to arrange a lunch date. Even if you never meet up, the social connection of talking can help you. Last but not least, learn to enjoy spending time with yourself.
If nothing else works, seek professional help.
Remember, the crisis line for loneliness and other issues is 741-741. Text “HOME” to that number 24/7 if you are dealing with crippling social isolation that won’t seem to go away. Help is out there.
About the Author: Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.