According to research conducted at Newcastle University under the direction of an epidemiologist, a lack of social connections raises the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Another study found that loneliness was linked to a 40% increase in the incidence of dementia and was published in The Journals of Gerontology.
It's somewhat normal when we go through hardships we feel we need to retreat from the world because our sense of self has been fractured. But how should you handle isolating yourself and not jeopardise your relationship in the process?
Speaking to Clinical Psychologist Dessy Tzoneva on the implications of self-isolation, she told IOL Lifestyle that self-isolation is when we feel uncomfortable with the amount of social contact.
She explains saying that when we talk about isolation, it's not time that is helpful or useful; it’s something that frequently makes us feel worse about ourselves.
“Isolation may harm our mental health and cause us to crave isolation more frequently, even though it's not rewarding, rejuvenating, or enjoyable,” said Tzoneva.
What would cause one to want to self isolate?
She said: “There are different things that make us choose to self-isolate for different reasons. It might be the fact that you are struggling with social skills that we don’t know how to reach out, or we feel embarrassed to try and connect or do not know who to connect with.”
Relocating to a new city where you do not know anyone, forging new friendships and making connections. Sometimes when a long-term relationship ends, which was our major point of connection, we tend to grieving and feel that loss, feeling depressed and not feeling good about ourselves, which makes it difficult for us to feel comfortable and confident in reaching out to others.
Why does it happen?
Tzoneva said: “We are social beings, and there are many challenges in life. It helps to have support, even if it is just emotional support. To be able to share how you're feeling with someone, or to have someone remind you that it will pass or that you're being too hard on yourself, or that they are there for you even if they don't know how to fix it. Even if they just sit with you in silence, redirect your attention for a while, or remind us of the things that are good about life.”
“Self-isolating is not an indication that you are broken, but you don't need to withdraw to solve your problems. It's actually great to be able to lean into your relationships to help you get through something, " said Tzoneva in conversation.
However, if you repeatedly choose to isolate yourself, never communicating with anyone or even expressing the need for a break, it will negatively affect both parties, she cautioned.
You must remain in touch with loved ones, friends, and co-workers because if you don't, you might find it difficult to re-enter and potentially damage more relationships in the process.
Tzoneva continues to emphasise the importance of communication outside of those trying times because, in those circumstances, we frequently act on impulse and are unable to think clearly due to our strong emotions, but also to communicate outside of those times, when we have recovered from those experiences and feel prepared to engage in conversation once more.
“I strongly believe it's important to have conversations with loved ones about the fact that it does happen from time to time, and they’re aware of it, and they know what is going on.”
It's a way to try and protect yourselves and preserve relationships even if we allow ourselves sometimes to retreat so that people understand and not about them because leaving people in the dark gives way to misinterpretation of the situations that maybe you’re angry with them or are giving them silent treatment etc.
What can you do?
Learn how to communicate, even during these trying times. Therapy or social skill groups can help with this because it's not always the case that we retreat into isolation and then return feeling fine. Often, isolation makes us feel worse about ourselves and the fallout that follows when people don't know where we've gone.
Ask yourself, does it actually help me when I isolate myself? Because even though there’s that edge to do so, feeling irritable or just not wanting to be around people is indicative of something bigger.
For example, am I trying to avoid conflict at the expense of my relationships and myself? What are the effects of this isolation?
Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.