social isolation

How to Overcome Social Isolation

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

The winter months can be difficult to get through for many people. It’s typically cold, and there are not many hours of daylight. We may not want to go outside and are more likely to isolate ourselves, which can negatively affect our mood.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety and depression that I have seen is social isolation. There are many reasons we may isolate ourselves. We might feel like it will take too much effort and that we don’t have enough energy to be around others. We might not want to burden other people with our emotions, or maybe we have developed some social anxiety and don’t feel comfortable interacting with others. Whatever the reason, social isolation is not a helpful strategy to combat a depressed mood or anxiety.

Healthy isolation, also known as solitude, is not the same as purposeful social isolation. Sometimes we need time alone to help reset and clear our minds, or we seek solitude as part of a spiritual experience. We may also need time alone to collect our thoughts and gain clarity about our feelings and what is happening in our lives.

Social isolation, on the other hand, is defined as being alone without any social interactions and can come from feelings of shame and depression. Social anxiety or fears of abandonment can also lead someone to isolate themselves from others. If I person has not developed deep, personal relationships with other people, they are more likely to experience social isolation.

Sometimes isolation is out of our hands, but it can also be something we create for ourselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. To have more health and happiness, it is important to find a good balance of solitude and time socializing.

If social isolation is affecting your mood and your life negatively, here are some guidelines for climbing out of it.

  1. When you are invited to do something with family or friends, make your best effort to accept the invitation and follow through with your plans. Try not to cancel the plans once you have agreed to go out with them. 
  2. Figure out how many times a week is feasible for you to make plans with a friend or family member, and make it a weekly goal to see them. Once a week is a fairly reasonable goal for most people.
  3. Try joining a weekly activity where you will meet other people with similar interests. This could include a sports league, a class, such as a fitness class or art class, or a Meetup group.
  4. Get out of the house once a day to take a walk or do errands, and try to interact with at least one person while out. Dogs are also great companions and can help you interact with others.
  5. Join a support group and attend meetings once a week. This could include a social skills group or a social anxiety group.
  6. Work with your therapist on what feelings come up for you when you feel like isolating yourself. They can also help you replace your need for isolation with a healthy coping strategy, which could also combat your anxiety and depression.

References

Good Therapy (n.d.). (20 August 2018). Isolation. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/isolation.

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