Humans are inherently social creatures so it’s not a big leap to consider that the lack of a social life and limited physical human contact would affect your overall health. What may surprise you however is that recent studies prove a lack of social interaction increases your risk of coronary health disease by 29-percent and stroke by 32-percent. Those numbers are on par with the effects of smoking and actually higher than obesity or lack of physical fitness, yet social isolation isn’t something you hear desperate warnings about. With over 40-percent of adults claiming to feel lonely and socially isolated, it’s time to develop a deeper understanding so you can save yourself or someone you love.
Recognizing Social Isolation
Social isolation extends beyond periods of temporary loneliness that you will experience at times. It involves an almost complete separation from socializing with other people, either due to physical issues such as location or a perceived separation such as extreme shyness or low self-esteem. Periods can be from several months, to several years in duration. Some warning signs that you or someone you care about are becoming socially isolated may include:
- Avoiding activities that involve social interaction
- Shopping to fill a void with material items and be around people without forming a personal connection
- Feeling fatigued and experiencing fragmented sleep
- Experience colds and other viral afflictions more than most
- Communicate mostly via the Internet
While signs vary, these are some of the most common that indicate you may be experiencing social isolation and not temporary loneliness.
Breaking the Cycle
If you understand why you are socially isolating, you can take steps to break the cycle and lower your risk for a premature death. Social isolation can be caused by mental illness or it can be a symptom, so seeking professional help would be an important first step when possible. If you’re self-aware, your isolation may be caused by a physical limitation, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem or extreme shyness or perhaps even a lack of social interest that has gone too far. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all cause or effect for social isolation so it will take some effort to determine your reasons.
If you feel ready to break the cycle and introduce yourself back into society, here are a few things you can try:
- Make a coffee date with a friend or family member and stick to it. It might be comforting to set a time limit the first few times you do this so you know when you can leave.
- Sign up for a class in your community or join an interest group. Since you will be participating in something you want to learn or enjoy doing, you can focus on that while getting to know other members or participants.
- Volunteer for a set amount of time each week. Start out with shorter hours and increase as you become more comfortable. Supporting a cause you believe in can build your self-esteem and give you a sense of purpose while interacting with others.
Despite extensive research that proves social isolation will contribute to an earlier death, the relationship between the duration of isolation and re-entering social interaction has not yet been defined. Considering the statistics, it’s safe to say the sooner you start rebuilding a social life, the better.