The fact is, before we began to experience a global COVID19 pandemic, there was an existing epidemic of loneliness.
In that post, I mention social media as a form of connection in the replacement of social connection in the world
Individuals who are lacking connection in their lives may turn to the digital realm to quench their isolation. Longing for connection, someone who is lonely may be more connected to his or her phone. In a survey exploring the social media patterns of 1,781 young adults, it was found that individuals who logged in for a half an hour per day felt less lonely compared to individuals who logged on for more than two hours daily. Further, participants who logged in nine times weekly felt less isolated when compared to respondents who checked over 50 times per week. However, in the Cigna Loneliness Index, social media use was not found to be a predictor of loneliness. Hence, it may be important to consider quality versus quantity. Social media as a factor may be less about how often social media is utilized and more about how social media is used. Psychology Today
So we have to consider how much social media we use and How we utilize it to confront social isolation (especially social isolation in a pandemic situation where we cannot go see people and be out and about).
- Groups on social media that involve interests you have… such as sharing or talking about hobbies you have or topics of interest you have. Even a virtual book club. This is engaging and a positive way to interact on social media.
- Avoiding long durations as this can actually adversely affect mood (certainly in this pandemic COVID19 lives we find ourselves in too much exposure to negative information can affect our stress and mental health)
- A way to interact with family and friends to feel More connected to them. Choosing to interact with friends and family to just touch base.
- Interactive more than one playing online games where you can play with your friends on social media. This is a distraction as well as socialization via social media.
- Humour sites and pages. Humour (even just amusing cat memes) can actually reduce stress. The same goes for cute videos. A dose of this can actually calm a person down.
Extreme effects of social isolation… no contact at all, in any way, for 30 days does a number on humans.
There are countless negative effects that social isolation and extreme isolation can have on our minds and bodies. Alati was no exception, reporting that he experienced a range of side effects, including changes to his sleep cycle, and hallucinations. Science Alert
The main problem is that humans are social beings. Yes, introverts are social beings. I am not lying to you. Even introverts need some social interaction even though we recharge by alone time. Introverts need less social interaction, yes, and typically smaller groups and closer friends only… be we physically need people as well. People need people, plain and simple. The lack of contact over time can be distressing to us in ways we might not perceive or expect.
Isolation effects generally
- Too much alone time for anyone begins to affect our mental health.
- And we are less able to deal with stressful situations.
- We are more likely to become depressed
- We may have issues with processing information
- It affects our immune system and we are more likely to become ill and higher blood pressure
- It can even eventually lead to long term mental health issues
- Irritation due to boredom and frustration with others
- Appetite changes
- Increase in stress
- Impaired sleep
- Reductions in reasoning and creativity
- Loneliness is frequently correlated with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicidality
“Our research really shows that the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity,” she says. In the study, investigators weighted several standard measures of social isolation, including marital status, frequency of religious service attendance, club meetings/group activities and number of close friends or relatives.
Now I think with chronic illness we are all quite aware of this. I often mention that part of my treatment for depression was socialization. Getting out of the house. Walks, for coffee, game nights. I needed that to cope better with chronic illness and mental illness. Not being about to actually does have an effect on me. It caused stress and anxiety due to worry about my loved ones due to this COVID19… you cannot connect with them physically to reassure yourself they are fine so I got very anxious.
In response to this extra stress on my mental health I have:
- Done relaxation breathing every time I begin to get anxious
- Kept up with meditation, especially to stop myself from ruminating on things I have absolutely no control over.
- Kept in contact with family and friends in various ways
- Journaling and gratitude journaling
- Increased my Vitamin D
- Distracting myself with my hobbies as best I can
- Maintaining a regular sleep cycle
- Getting dressed every day
- Setting daily goals
The good news about social isolation effects
- You may experience personal growth “including emotional growth, feeling closer to family and friends, and having a better perspective on life – as a result of their experience.” Science Alert
Inner reflection can come with some interesting realization about life. I can tell you this is true from having a chronic illness. I have been low functioning for the last three years and lover time my perception of selfhood, my identity, and how I perceive my self has changed for the better. I have begun to value myself in new and interesting ways. Unexpected ways since I can do far less… which usually makes me feel worthless. Instead, I have a lot of self-compassion for myself and my limitations. And greatly value the things I can do. I truly appreciate the time out of the house with friends and family. My life satisfaction has more depth to it. Not that coping is not hard to struggle with- pain, dizziness, fatigue- isn’t easy to cope with when you have time to ponder it. I do not catastrophize or ruminate on it though. I have found a level of acceptance I didn’t have before. You find out a lot about yourself and your Resilience.
It is a fine time to start a journal I think. Work through all those thoughts you are having and all that introspection.
Things that help one endure social isolation
- Assign some meaning to the experience. (for this COVID19 pandemic one may see this is a moral or social obligation)
- Mental distractions (reading, games, hobbies)
- Enhance social support (even online, phone, Facetime, text)
- Confront negative thoughts (Think about cognitive behavioural therapy or seeing a psychologist)
- Maintaining a sense of purpose and goals (still keeping to small goals and appreciating achievements. Finding a purpose in what you do at home)
- Focus on the self and introspection. Focus on self-care and improving overall wellbeing.
After 20 days willingly spent in total isolation, even Alati said he’s changed – reporting that the experience gave him a greater appreciation for people and life, better attention and focus, and overall feeling happier than before. Science Alert
Changes to the perception of reality
the brains of lonely people react differently than those with strong social networks. The University of Chicago researchers showed lonely and non-lonely subjects photographs of people in both pleasant settings and unpleasant settings. When viewing the pleasant pictures, non-lonely subjects showed much more activity in a section of the brain known as the ventral striatum than the lonely subjects. The ventral striatum plays an important role in learning. It’s also part of the brain’s reward center, and can be stimulated by rewards like food and love. The lonely subjects displayed far less activity in this region while viewing pleasant pictures, and they also had less brain activity when shown the unpleasant pictures. When non-lonely subjects viewed the unpleasant pictures, they demonstrated activity in the temporoparietal junction, an area of the brain associated with empathy; the non-lonely subjects had a lesser response [source: University of Chicago]. How stuff Works
This study demonstrates when we are socially isolated, maybe for months, too much social media can actually make us feel more isolated, more alone, more Lonely. What if those pictures you see are people appearing More productive, exercising More, Doing things, or Having Fun… when you are not? Then it leads to negative emotions.
Also with an unchanging environment, we are not as stimulated and this alters how we process information. It causes our attention to turn inward. This can lead to ruminating on thoughts and anxious thoughts that we might not normally focus on. This introspection, as mention can lead to growth and interesting develops but it can also lead to negative thought processes.
Long term without social feedback from others it distorts our ability to interpret things
Secondly, we derive meaning from our emotional states largely through contact with others. Biologists believe that human emotions evolved because they aided co-operation among our early ancestors who benefited from living in groups. Their primary function is social. With no one to mediate our feelings of fear, anger, anxiety and sadness and help us determine their appropriateness, before long they deliver us a distorted sense of self, a perceptual fracturing or a profound irrationality. It seems that left too much to ourselves, the very system that regulates our social living can overwhelm us.
The main point is we have effects we do not realize and may not be aware of that increase our stress levels and affect our relationships with others… how we interact with others (and those we may be isolated with). We have to also focus on our mental wellbeing. And it is important to keep connected with the world in as many ways as we can- without information overload on social media… but rather in ways that bring value to our interactions with others rather than perhaps depressing our mood and increasing our stress.