Whether you just dislike communicating with other people, dread attending large social gatherings, or simply refuse to leave your home and interact with the rest of the world, extended social isolation can ultimately cause serious health effects or even kill you.
To fully understand the effects that social isolation has on the mind and body, it’s important to dissect why people isolate in the first place. Once you figure out your reasoning, you can better predict the possible effects that your isolation will have on your mind and body.
Why We Isolate
According to the American Psychological Association, over 40 million Americans over the age of 45 would describe themselves as lonely. However, the reason for loneliness and social isolation depends on the person and their experiences.
Anybody who’s every isolated themselves likely had a “good” reason for it. It could easily be an attempt to cope with emotional trauma, the result of social anxiety or other anxiety disorders, or a basic lack of interest in socializing with others.
While each person that isolates themselves does so for a reason, the physical and mental effects are pretty standard across the board.
Social Isolation & the Body
In older populations especially, social isolation is very likely to cause physical effects and health conditions. According to research released by the National Institute of Aging, social isolation can cause the following physical symptoms or conditions.
● Reduced immune system functioning
● Increased blood pressure and heart rate
● Heart disease
In the short-term, you won’t experience most or any of these negative effects.
However, long-term social isolation places excess strain on your immune system and cardiovascular system and makes you more prone to developing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even cancer.
Each of these conditions worsens the overall status of your health and puts you at greater risk for premature death or illness. By getting yourself out there and socializing with others, you can significantly impact your health and wellness.
Social Isolation & the Mind
The most noticeable effects of social isolation will be in your mind, specifically your mental and emotional capabilities. Here are some major emotional and mental side effects that may occur as a result of social isolation according to the American Psychological Association.
● Difficulty falling or staying asleep
● Increased risk of dementia
● Development of unhealthy habits
In reference to anxiety and depression, both of these conditions place excess pressure on your mental health and make you more prone to developing physical health conditions and suicidal thoughts and ideation. They also make you more likely to want to continue to socially isolate yourself, keeping you in the seemingly endless cycle of loneliness.
When you isolate yourself, you’re shutting yourself off from communication, interacting with others, and building relationships. These actions make you more likely to develop dementia and reduce your cognitive abilities in the long-term because you’re not actively using the social and emotional skills that you have.
Another major concern with social isolation is the lack of interaction with others and how that may lead to the development of unhealthy habits like alcohol and drug abuse. By developing any sort of addiction, you’re increasing your risk of reduced mental capacity and overdose.
Social isolation doesn’t only affect you mentally and emotionally. In fact, it can lead to the development of serious health conditions and premature death if continued for a long period of time.
If you recognize that somebody you know is socially isolating, it’s important that you make an attempt to get them help or encourage them to socialize. You could be saving their life.