Humanbeings are social creatures. We need people around us to build communities and thrive.
We are at our best when part of something bigger than ourselves and, therefore, often at our worst on our own.
It is no surprise that certain people are at greater risk of isolation than others. Those with physical disabilities and mental health issues to name just two.
Whilst we all value a little alone time, imagine if that alone time was constant. Imagine you didn’t speak to anyone for days not because you didn’t feel like it but because you had no one to talk to. Or you felt too anxious or frail to leave you home. Or you felt that picking up the phone to a friend would be a bother.
Imagine your isolation was imposed upon you like a prison sentence and not out of choice.
This is what being isolated is like. But beyond the obvious mental and emotional harm prolonged isolation can cause, it also has a physical impact too.
Studies carried out in 2007 by UCLA suggested that extended periods of isolation can impact on gene expression which causes inflammation, the release of stress hormones and impairs the immune system, leading to illness.
Needless to say at this point it becomes something of a self perpetuating cycle.
So what can be done if you or someone you care about is at risk is social isolation?
Getting out and helping people is the best and most rewarding way you can combat your isolation.
The good news is that there is a worthy cause for every taste so if volunteering a homeless shelter seems too challenging for you, charities like the RSPB are always looking for people to walk their conservation sites and talk to visitors.
Aside from meeting people, there is an opportunity to learn and possibly open up opportunities for other groups or potential employment.
If you go online or check in at your local library you will find no shortage of clubs and groups to join whether it’s a book club, walking club or a board games club.
Of course your personal circumstances must be considered – physical disabilities etc – but by identifying something that interests you or potentially interests you, there is an element of personal development as well as social interaction. This will help with your self esteem and overall sense of wellbeing.
Whether they are friends, family or neighbours, do your best to make contact with those who know you best. This could be difficult if you have anxiety, low self worth, depression or another form of mental health issue. Try reflection methods to make it easier to reach out.
This gets harder still if you are estranged from family or friends but ask yourself what you have to lose by trying to build bridges. By never asking the question you rob the person of the chance to say yes.
There’s also something to becoming a regular at a local coffee house. A five minute chat with the person behind the counter can make all ther difference.
Whichever option you take remember it’s not about making fast friends instantly, that’s an emotional mountain. Starting small and building up to larger conversations is the key.
Finally, choose your friends well. If you’re the one making all the effort or doing all the running around for your new group of friends then there’s an inbalance that will cause other problems further down the road.
Encompass are a leading charity supporting individuals with learning disabilities and enduring mental health issues in Dorset.