effects of social isolation on mental health

The Human Species and Social Isolation

The Human Species and Social Isolation: How a hiatus from social contact affects our mental health

To adhere to the recommended safety protocols of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, our “new normal” means familiarizing ourselves with discontinuing close contact with others. Although this precaution should flatten the Coronavirus curve, what does this mean for our culture’s mental health, now shaken by the lack of social stability?

Generally speaking, humans are a social species, hard-wired for connection. Group settings like classrooms, concert venues, houses of worship, and sporting arenas share a common camaraderie and cohesiveness that connects us all; a term sociologist Émile Durkheim coined “collective effervescence.”

Now forced to stay away from one another, social contact no longer safeguards against the negative effects of stress. But there’s good news: even if you don’t have someone in your physical proximity, the mere notion and reassurance of having someone to reach out to just in case you need them, is pivotal to your overall wellbeing.

Vulnerable Populations: Those especially susceptible to the effects of social distancing

The mental health effects of social distancing do not discriminate. However, particular populations are subject to very real vulnerabilities. Those who have a greater risk for exposure and contracting COVID-19, such as the elderly and healthcare workers, are more likely to experience mental health declines. During this crisis notorious for its scarcity of supplies, to add to the list, those at risk for mental health regression are those with: disabilities, specialized diets, preexisting mental health conditions, and people who require medical necessities, caregivers, or other accommodations.

Daily Impacts of Social Distancing: What’s decreasing and increasing when it comes to our mental health?

What Decreases from Social Distancing:

  • As social avenues shut down, so does our social bonding hormone, oxytocin.
  • Since we are staying at home, our sensory stimuli are limited.
  • As layoffs and furloughs become more and more frequent, our job security declines.
  • When doors close to mental health programs and providers, available access to coping strategies also decrease.

What Increases from Social Distancing:

  • Vast viruses like COVID-19 create public health safety protocols, giving rise to disruptions of daily routines.
  • Those panicked by the pandemic have an escalation in their mindset, shifting from “living” to “survival.”
  • Increases in financial strain.
  • Fear intensifies. This includes fear for loved ones’ health, fear of finding supplies, and fear of contracting the Coronavirus.
  • An upsurge takes place of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and loneliness.
  • Boredom, irritability, anger and frustration also grow substantially.
  • As those afflicted with COVID-19 are on the rise, as is the stigmatization of those who have the virus.

Effective Solutions to the Effects of Social Distancing

So, what is the best solution to all of this? Optimism.

Modesty works its magic in times like these. The pandemic is not only a test of character but a test of consideration for others. Only concern yourself with what you can control.

This is also a time for altruism at its finest. To lift spirits, so far we’ve seen people singing and playing instruments outside of apartment windows. We’ve seen artists put on free, live-streaming performances. Celebrities are reading to children or watching their cancelled school plays.

Remember that those who look up to you are watching. Be mindful of the actions and mindset you want younger generations to mimic during these trying times.

Connect, Communicate, and Build Your Virtual Community.

Technology to the rescue! Take this time to improve the quality of your relationships. Continue to express your emotions with others, and for the time being, replace real time socialization with texting, email, Skype, and Facetime. Sign-in to social media for solidarity, just be sure to limit your screen time.

Exercise Your Body and Your Mind!

Put purpose into your life by following a daily routine and healthy lifestyle. Expand your endorphins by taking a walk or working out at home. Train your brain to express your innermost thoughts. For relief, try journaling or expressive writing. Download mindfulness apps for relaxation exercises. Gain gratitude by learning to appreciate the little things in life again.

Counselors Corner: Pointers from a professional

Problems we may be experiencing (e.g.: anxiety, depression) often thrive in isolation. These problems try to convince us that we are the only ones experiencing them. We encourage people to reach out to whoever they feel comfortable talking to. As challenging as not having in-person interactions can be, people are finding that there are many ways to make connections outside of their own thoughts. Aside from regular forms of connection via phone and video conferencing, people can look for other connections through reading, writing, nature, music, spirituality, art, etc.”

Lisa Mooney, LMFT
Counselor for Goodwin University

Are you a Goodwin student looking to connect with a counselor?

Telephone and video conferences are available to students by contacting Janet Concatelli in Student Affairs at 860-913-2043 or JConcatelli@goodwin.edu.

Also, feel free to contact Lisa Mooney, LMFT at (860)913-2395 or reach out via email at CounselingCenter@ihssbhc.org.