Risks of distancing yourself from social activity
Spending time with family and friends not only can be fun, but research also shows it benefits your mental and physical health. Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a Mayo Clinic psychologist, agrees that socialising is key to good health.
Socialising is good for your mind and body. “We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function better when we’re in a community and being around others,” Dr. Sawchuk says.
He adds that people who spend a lot of time alone, such as older adults or new mums, may have an increased risk of depression and lower quality of life. You don’t have to be supersocial to see benefits of connecting with others.
“Just being able to shoot the breeze about certain things, anything really, can be a very, very positive type of thing,” Dr. Sawchuk says.
Socialising not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and may even help you live longer. In-person is best, but connecting via technology also works.
This article explores the risks of distancing yourself from being social, some reasons causing loneliness or isolation and ways to overcome these feelings.
Risks of distancing yourself from social activity
Social, psychological and medical research has now demonstrated conclusively that there is a direct correlation between the degree to which a person feels connected to others and their physical and mental health.
Some commonly known effects from not feeling connected to others:
- Generally decreased feeling of vitality, less energy and feeling tired more often
- Greater likelihood of chronic illness such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.
- More frequent bouts of sickness, such as colds or flu, and longer recovery times
- Longer recovery times from injury
- Regular feelings of loneliness
- Increased likelihood of depression
- Decreased level of happiness and satisfaction with life in general
- Shorter life spans
Feeling lonely and isolated common among older adults
It is estimated that among those aged over 65, between 5%-16% report loneliness and 12% feel isolated. Studies show that acute loneliness and social isolation can impact gravely on wellbeing and quality of life, with demonstrable negative health effects.
Some reasons that might make you feel lonely or isolated:
- Geographic isolation
- Feeling lost in the crowd
- Lack of close family ties
- Living alone
- Difficulties in meeting new people due to access issues, an introverted personalities, or feeling like you don’t belong
- Losing a loved one or friend through death or relocation
- Feelings of loss or grief
- Poor physical health, frailty, mobility issues
- A mental health condition such as depression or anxiety
- Fear of rejection from others or feelings of being “different” or stigmatised by society
- Inability to participate in activities due to access issues, mobility, illness, transport
- Retirement from work, home relocation, starting out in a new role or community
- Lack of purpose or meaning in life
- Language or cultural barriers, or reduced connection with your culture of origin
How loneliness and isolation can affect your health
Being lonely has a significant and lasting negative effect on blood pressure and is associated with depression (either as a cause or as a consequence). Feeling alone or socially isolated for a long time can be harmful. You might experience physical or mental problems or do things that are bad for you.
Below are some signs stemmed from isolation and/or loneliness to look out for:
- Physical symptoms – such as headaches, feeling ill, having pains, feeling tired, having sleep problems or lacking motivation
- Mental health conditions – such as depression, feeling anxious, having panic attacks or feeling paranoid
- Low energy – tiredness or lack of motivation
- Sleep problems – difficulty getting to sleep, waking frequently or sleeping too much
- Diet problems – such as putting on weight, losing weight or losing your appetite
- Negative feelings – such as feeling worthless or hopeless or thinking about self-harm
- Substance abuse – such as drinking a lot of alcohol, misusing medicines or taking drugs
Four ways to help overcome isolation and loneliness
“Social relationships are fundamental to our thriving,” says Louise Hawkley, PhD, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Chicago. The fact that loneliness feels so uncomfortable is a reminder to pay attention to and nurture these relationships that can further your happiness. No matter how many people are around you or in your life, depression can still bring loneliness.
There are a few simple activities that will help avoid loneliness and isolation and improve your life. Start by:
- Connecting with family and friends – visit, phone, email or use video technology
- Getting out of the house – go shopping, church, exercise, join a club or enrol to a class / study
- Volunteering – meet new people to feel connected and valued
- Getting a pet – pets are great conversation starters. They can improve your physical and mental health
Read more articles on ways to combat loneliness and be more social:
- 16 ways to help combat loneliness and social isolation
- Why being social helps us to survive and thrive?
- How loneliness and isolation negatively affects your health
- Socialising & its many benefits
- 7 reasons why you should join an online community
- Keeping social – quick links
– Lifeline. Loneliness & Isolation. Read more
– Social Care Institute for Excellence. At a glance 60: Preventing loneliness and social isolation among older people. May 2012. Read more
– Mind Health Connect, Loneliness and Isolation. August 2015. Read more
– Everyday Health, Major Depression Resource Center. Dealing With Depression and Loneliness. By Madeline R.Vann, MPH. Read more
– Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of being socially connected. Read more
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