The effects of social isolation on mental health are a challenge during the best of times, but social isolation has taken on a new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic. As bars, restaurants, schools, and shopping centers close, and we’re all instructed to social distance with our immediate families at home, the opportunity for social has been greatly reduced.
Social isolation can exacerbate existing mental illnesses, and it can make feelings of loneliness even worse, creating some serious negative effects on the health and well-being of us all.
Increased Risk of Anxiety and Depression
The situation playing out around the world in regard to COVID-19 is enough to make the most mentally healthy among us feel symptoms of depression and anxiety. With so many jobs lost and necessities, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, missing from store shelves, it’s normal for our mental health to take a hit, especially when we can’t get together with our friends and family to talk about what’s happening and how we’re feeling.
Continued social isolation increases the risk of developing disorders like depression and anxiety, but it can be especially harmful for those who already struggle with anxiety and depression, as it can exacerbate symptoms.
Fortunately, mental health services are considered essential. Inpatient facilities are still accepting patients, and many therapists are conducting sessions online to continue providing services while maintaining social distancing orders. If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or both, don’t be afraid to get the help you need during this trying time.
Faster Cognitive Decline and Progression of Alzheimer’s
Studies have shown that those who feel lonely may be twice as likely to develop the type of dementia that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. This study was conducted in regards to patients who feel lonely. While dealing with COVID-19, not only do we feel alone, many of us are alone. Seniors who may have relied on a family member stopping by once a week or speaking with the grocery store clerk for social interaction have been stripped of even those few conversations.
Social interactions are important, so it’s vital that you reach out if you’re feeling lonely. Call a friend or ask your family to walk you through how to set up a video call. Even if you aren’t near each other, there are ways you can connect so you don’t feel the mental effects of isolation.
It can be difficult to deal with stressful situations when life is functioning normally. And the stress of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Levels of stress are through the roof, especially since we have very little control over the situation.
The pandemic can be especially trying for those who already struggle with how to deal with stress. It’s important to find ways to deal with that stress, as its long-term effects can include mental health problems, cardiovascular issues, and gastrointestinal challenges.
Provide yourself with a sense of control and you can decrease some feelings of stress. A few tips include:
- Follow the CDC’s guidelines for good hygiene and social distancing.
- Call friends and family, and be open about your feelings.
- Practice calming activities, like deep breathing and muscle relaxation.
- Set achievable goals based on the new circumstances in your life.
Increased Drug and Alcohol Use
The COVID-19 outbreak poses added dangers for drug and alcohol users. Not only is it dangerous to use during a time when our healthcare system is already overburdened; the situation itself can cause those who are in recovery to relapse. With the inability to engage in normal daily activities, combined with being stuck and home and the inability to socialize with friends and family, it is very easy to fall back into old habits. Another dangerous potential outcome is the fact that if you overdose, there may not be anyone around to help.
As mentioned above, many mental health centers that deal with co-occurring disorders are still open at this time, so it’s important to get help if you need it. Participating in online meetings is also a way you can stay connected with others who understand what you’re going through.
Increased Risk of High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
Mental and physical health are intertwined. So although an increased risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease due to social isolation are directly related to physical health, they can create long-lasting mental health challenges.
Dealing with new medical problems can cause feelings of anxiety and depression, especially when you may be worried about going to a clinic or hospital that could be treating COVID-19 patients. Not to mention, these conditions can shorten your lifespan.
Find ways to engage in meaningful, productive activities to reduce the likelihood of experiencing the physical health consequences of social distancing. That might mean scheduling a video chat with family once a week, or making meals that can be picked up by neighbors.
Although we must be physically distant, we can do something about the effects of social isolation on mental health. You are not alone. Contact Baton Rouge Behavioral Health at 1-225-300-8470, or fill out our online form, and a member of our admissions team will help you find treatment your mental health and addiction issues during the coronavirus pandemic.