How Isolation Can Affect Mental Health

Although social distancing can effectively slow the spread of COVID-19, it can also adversely cause people to feel lonely and isolated. Social isolation can significantly impact one’s mental health, causing or adding to conditions like physical inactivity, poor hygiene, depression, anxiety, and dementia. As a result, it’s important that those who are socially distancing and isolated take precautions to avoid the negative effects it can have on them. Through the addition of some simple daily activities and slight changes to your current routine, it’s possible to remain mentally healthy during these times.

Who Is Affected?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its physical restrictions more people are at risk of isolation than usual. Older adults are especially likely to feel the effect of loneliness. In fact, prior to the pandemic it was reported that eight million older adults were affected by isolation or social disconnection. Older adults are more at risk because of life-changes such as retirement, children leaving home, or losing a spouse or close friends.

However, due to the pandemic, more people are at risk because of the remaining expectation to stay distanced from family and friends, work from home, and alter their typical day-to-day lifestyle. Other lifestyle factors that make it more likely for someone to feel isolated include living alone, being single or divorced, and losing a loved one.

Today, even the unlikeliest of people can suffer from feelings of loneliness. It’s important to maintain communication with all of your loved ones and check in on their mental stability, even if they appear fine on the surface they could be struggling.

Signs To Look For

If you are unsure if you have family or friends who are struggling, there are certain signs that may suggest that social isolation is affecting you or your loved ones. Unfortunately, these impacts can also contribute to furthering mental health problems. The signs you should look for include:

  • Poor sleep quality
  • Poor self-care and hygiene
  • Aggressive or passive behavior
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Cognitive decline and altered memory

Researchers have stated that the effects of loneliness and isolation differ based on age. People aged 18-50 may struggle to focus and eat more frequently, as compared to children who may experience cognitive, behavioral, or emotional difficulties.

It has also been stated that adults aged 50 and older can become socially isolated or lonely in ways that put their overall health at risk. Social isolation can increase the risk of dementia by 50%, stroke by 32%, and heart disease by 29% in older adults.

It’s necessary, especially today, to find ways to stay connected and engaged if you become socially isolated or lonely.

How To Protect Your Mental Health

Oftentimes people don’t realize how isolated they have become over the course of the pandemic and how that can be affecting their mental health. Finding ways to connect with friends and family while sheltering in place can reduce the effect of loneliness on your mental state. Be aware of your own habits as well and implement changes if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed. If you find yourself feeling this way, there are changes you can make to your routine that will help guide you to a better state of mental health. If you find yourself unable to make necessary changes on your own, don’t hesitate to speak to a therapist or a life coach who can guide you through this difficult transition and unprecedented time. Many health insurance companies are now covering the cost of therapy due to the negative effects of COVID-19.

One small change that can have a big impact is taking a break from social media and stepping away from tech devices. Although social media can keep you connected with friends and family during this time, it also has the ability to increase your feelings of isolation. A study by the University of Pennsylvania discovered that high use of social media increases feelings of loneliness. The study determined that reducing social media use can actually make you feel less lonely and improve your overall well-being, which is critical during this time and can have a big impact on your mental capacity.

Heavy use of tech devices can also increase stress, depression, anxiety, and disrupt sleep patterns because of the blue light that is emitted from the screens. The blue light is emitted in short wavelengths with high energy frequencies that can overwhelm your eyes and mind if interacted with for too long. If you use your phone right before bed, the blue light can disrupt your body’s natural rhythm because it shocks your retinas—making your internal clock think it’s actually daytime and preventing you from getting adequate sleep.

With the pandemic, tech devices and social media use has increased immensely as a result of fewer social outings and closings of many public places. Therefore, people have begun developing digital fatigue more frequently, which is a state of mental exhaustion caused by overuse of tech devices and interaction with digital blue light. You should make it a priority to disengage from tech devices and social media whenever possible. That being said, this can be a difficult task for people who are currently working from home or distance learning, but not impossible. There are protective tools that can lessen the negative effects. If you need to interact with tech devices regularly for work or school, consider investing in blue light glasses to protect your eyes from the harmful rays. The lenses in these glasses can help shield your eyes from the blue light that’s emitted from screens by using polycarbonate material, which has an anti-reflective coating that reflects ultraviolet light while allowing beneficial light to pass through.  Even if you’re forced to sit in front of your computer all day, adding these glasses to your daily routine can minimize the harmful effects of blue light, helping you to sleep more soundly, experience fewer headaches, and feel more alert.

Making small changes like these can help you overcome the feeling of loneliness or isolation you might be experiencing. Feel free to add other hobbies or activities that interest you to this list, filling your days with engaging activities will help build better mental health faster.