Loneliness & Isolation

Loneliness and social isolation are both common parts of the human experience, but sometimes they can feel debilitating. And that’s not just hyperbole: loneliness has been linked to increased mortality rates, higher blood pressure, and numerous other physical problems. Human connection is an important part of both physical and mental health, and people who don’t have as much of it as they’d like–in terms of either quality or quantity–run real risks of developing other issues like depression.

Wanting to be alone, have time to oneself, or being an introvert aren’t the same as feeling isolated or lonely. Loneliness in particular is a subjective experience, and people can feel alone even when they are with people or have many connections. For those who do feel alone though, it can be difficult to imagine breaking out of that state. Part of the reason for this is actually biological: our brains react to feelings of isolation by going into “self-preservation mode” and making us want to isolate ourselves us even more[1].

But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for those who are feeling loneliness or isolation. Researchers suggests that taking the following steps can improve social connections:

  • Try to stay connected to others, even if you are physically isolated. Online communities can be a great option. Adopting a pet, if you’re able, may help give you companionship and purpose. If you are able to get out and around, consider volunteering or joining a social group.
  • Realize it’s in your head. Researchers have shown that people often try to protect themselves from loneliness by isolating themselves even more. This can make you seem standoffish to people you are trying to connect with, and doesn’t allow you to focus on what people might need from you in an interaction. Try to resist the impulse to shut down, and instead open up. Share a secret with a friend or reach out to someone you haven’t in a while.
  • Don’t force it. If you don’t want more social connections, or you feel you have to change yourself beyond recognition to get them, don’t bother. Take some of the pressure off and focus on yourself or the relationships you do have.[2]

Loneliness and isolation can be serious threats to both physical and mental health, and are real feelings that many people share. If you need further help navigating these feelings, you can always turn to a professional.

Referenced Material

[1] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/cover-friends, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3865701/

[2] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/cover-friends