When we think of isolation these days, we usually think of having to isolate due to returning from travel or testing positive for covid, but isolation to some can be much more than that. For some people, isolation means having many human interactions but feeling disconnected from those interactions; these people are not lonely, but they are isolated. For others, such as introverts, being alone doesn't mean feeling lonely cause they might actually enjoy being alone; as long as they have meaningful connections with the people they care about they don't feel isolated.
Regardless of how it manifests itself, isolation can have negative consequences for our physical, emotional and spiritual health. People who are isolated may struggle with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this blog post, we will explore what isolation really is, the impact it can have on our lives, how it affects us and how we can overcome it.
A common cause of isolation is unprocessed and unresolved trauma. Trauma isolation is a coping mechanism that people use to protect themselves from further pain. When we experience trauma, our brains go into survival mode and release stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones help us to fight, flight or freeze in the face of danger. But when the danger is over and the stress hormone levels return to normal, we are left with unprocessed feelings, these feelings can be stored physically in our muscles and metaphysically in our body's energy.
Trauma in this context is a type of psychological injury that occurs when someone experiences a highly stressful or distressing event. This can be from something like abuse or neglect, or as common as breaking up with a loved one, but it can also be from not honouring, or being true to oneself. This might happen for people who constantly putting themselves down, don't feel good enough, or frequently give in to others’ opinions and expectations of them.
A key sign that you have experienced trauma, or processed an event as a traumatic experience is feeling like your whole world has been turned upside down. You may feel scared, alone, and helpless. Trauma can also arise from feeling like you're in danger, or if you think your life is at risk.
The events of the last two years have forced the entire world to face a level of uncertainty that was unprecedented in our time. In addition to the fear for life (both of ourselves and loved ones), there was the emotional experience of everyone having differing views and opinions about the severity, risk and the right response. Many people lost friends and family members, not physically but through emotionally charged disagreements.
On top of these relationship losses, most parts of the world experienced some form of lockdown. These lockdowns meant that many people could not see people in physical settings. People already struggling to connect were ripped away from support networks. Some people already well connected had their networks destroyed through lockdown and separation process; removing their previous connectedness.
The relationship between trauma and isolation is complex, not all people who are isolated suffer trauma and not all those who have suffered trauma become isolated; however, the two are often connected. Isolation and trauma can have a devastating impact on mental health. People who are isolated are more likely to experience depression, while people who have experienced trauma are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Depression, PTSD and trauma all create unique thought complexes in our brains. They often lead to isolation because we feel that we cannot relate to others. The lack of connection can be a result of an unwillingness to share with others for fear of vulnerability or being ridiculed. It can also be that others won’t understand our experiences or just that we feel 'weak' or 'stupid' and are afraid of how we will be perceived socially.
Common side effects of isolation include:
A study in Portugal found that majority of illicit drug use was related to boredom and lack of community and connection. Several studies on both humans and rats discovered that if drugs were presented to bored individuals with a lack of community, drug use became compulsive. While when drugs were available to individuals with strong community connections, supporting family and friends and plenty of social and recreational opportunities, drug use was rare and was never compulsive.
Mental health issues can manifest in many ways and be a result of many things, not only isolation and trauma; though these are common causes. Mental health issues can include depression, anxiety, distrust of others and neurotic tendencies among many other things.
Depression, in particular, is not always obvious, depression is stereotyped as feeling sad and while this can be true, it's an incomplete picture. Depressed people may appear happy, but lack motivation, social interest or show changes in behaviour like not doing activities they enjoy, are all signs of depression.
Suicide is ultimately an extension of mental health issues or disconnectedness. While some people express no external signs before suicide, many will demonstrate prolonged drug use or struggles with mental health issues. If you are having suicidal thoughts we encourage you to reach out for help and speak to loved ones. Hard times always pass and with the right guidance you'll get back on the right path again.
We can see that isolation is a serious social issue and is not discussed as openly as it should.
For those who identify isolation in themselves, there are some things that can be done. Seeking community is very important, however, this can be difficult. Identifying places where you can find like-minded individuals can be helpful. If you enjoy a particular sport, join a local team or start small by just attending meetups. If you have another interest, find a group that shares that interest with you. If you do have family or friends, find the person you trust the most and try slowly opening up and asking them to help you find support. Finally, identify if your isolation is a result of unresolved trauma as this, in particular, may benefit from professional support.
There are two signs you may benefit from trauma recovery. First, if you identify that you are struggling with trauma, or you know you went through a previous trauma (even if you feel it is resolved). Second, if you are depressed or isolated and cannot identify the cause, you may have trauma in your past.
Trauma can manifest as ongoing physical pains, especially those that are unexplained and do not relate to a physical injury. It can also be ongoing social anxiety, especially around specific activities or interactions. Those who are attuned to others’ feelings and highly empathetic can also experience a shared or collective trauma which may be a result of what those around them are feeling.
The best way to recover from trauma is to seek a professional trauma recovery specialist, they can walk you through processes and techniques specific to yourself. However, common practices you can use yourself are meditation and stretching, such as yoga. If you are fortunate enough to have a spa pool, these can also be a great way to let go and relax the body and mind while you process your thoughts. Pay attention to what thoughts create anxiety, pain or other feelings for you, if a thought is disharmonious, work on changing your thought process.
Stop giving attention to technology and media. Technology is a means to communicate, not a substitute for human connection. Take time away from these devices, don't compare your life to others on social media and don't listen to the news constantly. The media uses sensationalized stories to spike viewers cortisol levels as this causes the brain to pay constant attention and remain in an alert state; don’t fall for this false constant anxiety trick.
Isolation can have a debilitating effect on our lives, which is why addressing underlying trauma is so important. Specialist trauma recovery practitioners can help do this, but if that’s not an option there are things that can be done alone, such as mindfulness practices, journaling, and seeking connection. Ring a friend and tell them you love them. Join a social group or dancing class in order to meet new people and mix with others. Invite someone over and jump in the spa together for some music and hydrotherapy massage. Submersion and floating in water has been shown to lower heart rate and stress levels, making it a great way to relax. Swimming and exercising in water, also have positive mental health effects. If you found this information useful please like, comment and share. If you're looking for a spa pool, Sapphire spas have a full range of professional spa pools and swim spas to choose from.
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