COVID-19: Tools to Tackle Effects of Social Isolation

In the upcoming weeks we will have to become even more socially isolated than we already are.

Which is going to be different as humans are social creatures and it’s instinctual to rely on each other for our survival. However, now for our survival we’re being told to do the opposite, to stay away from each other, something that goes against our primary human instinct.  And let’s face it, now with all non-essential services being closed, social isolation is going to get much harder before it gets better.  For some it will be easier than others.  Introverts tend to feel recharged by spending time by themselves, versus extroverts who get their energy through socializing with others.  For us extroverts, feeling loneliness is going to be a big threat in the upcoming days. 

There has been lots of research from people who have lived in isolated environments such as researchers stationed in Antarctica who have reported that loneliness was the most difficult part of the job. The difference between isolation and loneliness is that isolation is being physically separated from other people, whereas loneliness is an internal feeling.  Unfortunately, the two go together.  Social isolation produces higher levels of loneliness, but loneliness makes people socially isolate themselves. Results from a recent study found that too much social isolation can lead to health issues such as depression, poor sleep quality, cognitive decline, cardiovascular disfunction, and impaired immunity at every stage of life (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 370, No. 1669, 2015). Another research paper compared social isolation as having similar harmful effects equivalent to obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 188, No. 1, 2019).

So how can we offset loneliness from social isolation in the upcoming weeks?

  • Continue to talk to our friends and family over the phone and through social media. In fact, reach out to them more. Have FaceTime or Skype gatherings.  Call them up on the computer and pretend you’re all sitting in your living room together playing a game and chatting.
  • Volunteer in some way if you can. Engaging in selfless activities that benefit others can have very positive effects on our mental health. Here’s just one site where you can find some new online volunteering opportunities. https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en
  • Enroll in an online club through Facebook or other forums. Book clubs, cultural community clubs, interest clubs, etc.  Engaging in a social group unrelated to the current events can help us to stay positive and socialize about something that isn’t related to our fears or worries.

The positive takeaway is that we are in the best position to stay social during isolation more than any time ever in human history.  So, this weekend get creative and find new ways to socialize in your social distancing.