Social isolation is a state of complete or near-complete lack of contact between an individual and society. It can be voluntary, based on the choices made by the individual, or involuntary due to social circumstances.
Everyone needs someone. Humans, like every other animal, are social creatures. We are not designed to live in isolation.
Unfortunately, humanity still faces fallout from forced social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The quarantine times showed everyone how much we truly need each other.
Social isolation poses many risks to overall well-being. It can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and even physical health issues like high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and even an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Social isolation and heart health
Social isolation is a heart disease risk factor that has been gaining attention lately. While it has long been known that heart disease is primarily caused by lifestyle and environmental factors, researchers are now learning that social isolation could also play a role in heart health.
Studies have linked loneliness to an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other heart-related illnesses. According to research conducted by the University of York, loneliness and social isolation can be as bad for your heart health as anxiety or job pressures.
It was found that such feelings may significantly raise one’s risk of having either a stroke or a heart attack – with an increased rate compared to other known psychological risks.
Social isolation can cause stress and depression – two known heart disease risk factors – which can increase the likelihood of developing heart problems. It may also lead to unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or lack of physical activity, which can contribute to heart issues.
Social isolation and older adults
When it comes to social isolation, older adults can be particularly vulnerable. As we age, our access to transportation can become limited, and many of us live far away from family members or friends.
This can make us feel disconnected from the world around us, which can have severe implications for our physical and mental health. Moreover, the longer we remain isolated, the harder it can be to break out of our shells and connect with others.
How to help others who are socially isolated
Helping isolated people can be an enriching experience, but it can also be challenging to know where to start. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Reach out and make contact – Taking the time to reach out and contact someone who is socially isolated shows that you care and are willing to invest in their wellbeing. It can be as simple as sending a message or making a phone call to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Listen – Listening is one of the most powerful tools for helping others. Taking the time to listen and understand someone and their fears and challenges can make a huge difference in how they feel. Often, people just need to be heard.
- Invite them to join you – Inviting someone to join you for something like a meal, an outing, or even a conversation helps them feel included and supported. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but it can make all the difference.
- Ask them what they need – Asking someone who is lonely what they need and how you can help is a great way to start a conversation about their current situation. It also shows that you are open and willing to provide support in whatever way possible.
- Connect them with resources – If you know of any relevant resources or organizations that could support someone socially isolated, take the time to connect them with those resources. This can be a great way to help them get the professional assistance they need.
How to help yourself if you are socially isolated
If you’re feeling socially isolated, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There are plenty of ways to connect with other people and overcome loneliness.
One strategy is to reach out to friends and family members who can provide social support. This can be done through phone calls, emails, or virtual hangouts. Exploring online communities or groups focused on topics you’re interested in is also a good idea. This can help you find people who share common interests and make meaningful connections.
Another way to combat social isolation is to get active in your local community. Look for activities such as volunteer work, sports teams, art classes, or book clubs that you can join. Doing something meaningful and getting out of the house can be a great way to meet new people and feel more connected.
If you’re feeling particularly low, it may help to talk to a mental health professional. A counselor or therapist can provide an objective perspective, discuss potential strategies for managing loneliness, and offer support.
Remember, caring for your physical health is equally as important as caring for your mental health. Be sure that you are getting enough quality sleep, spending time outdoors in the sunshine, eating all the right foods to support excellent health, and focusing on reducing the toxic burden in your life.
If you have questions about things you can do to keep your heart healthy, reach out to us to book a FREE 20-minute call with one of our health coaches.
Medically Reviewed: Dr. Jack Wolfson, 2023