Social isolation is defined as a lack of social contacts and having few people to interact with regularly. During the pandemic people who networked or visited regularly with family or friends were restricted in their interactions causing many to lose touch for a while.
But there is a difference between loneliness and social isolation. When you are lonely, you are in fear or are grieving the fact that you are all by yourself. Being socially isolated is a lack of social contacts. Just because you live alone or spend time by yourself doesn’t necessarily mean you are lonely. Some people thrive on having space for themselves.
As you get older, family members move away, or you lose a spouse or partner. Their absence leaves a void in your life and you naturally find yourself more alone. Fostering relationships with people who offer support will help get you through difficult times if you stay engaged with them. They can lift your spirits or help take you out of a dark place if you need it. When you are socially isolated and lose those connections it could cause you to become lonely, depressed, or even affect your cognitive function.
Social media can’t replace an in-person connection, but can be valuable
If you are seeking to maintain your current connections or meet new ones, but can’t meet with them physically, social media offers a place to maintain those relationships if you engage in meaningful conversations.
But, you can’t just be a fly on the wall. If you are using social media to spy on your chattier friends, while lurking in the background, it won’t be much use for you as a social tool. You would be better off not using it at all.
One way to cultivate new relationships is to join groups either online or off with people who share your interests.
Has social isolation made it harder for you to stay connected?
If you were in the habit of going to club meetings, networking, attending your house of worship, getting together for parties, weddings, etc., you may feel like your life has been put on hold. It may even make you feel hesitant to stay in touch causing you to feel even more isolated.
You aren’t alone. During the pandemic, careers were lost or put into disarray when businesses moved from the office to home. Zoom meetings have saved many relationships but there is a certain level of connection that is lost when you are meeting with colleagues online rather than in person.
A Zoom meeting may make you feel like you are watching television or playing a game of Hollywood Squares rather than engaging in a business meeting. Your colleagues might be wearing business clothes from the waist up while sitting in their underwear or PJs. A certain CNN analyst, got himself in big trouble when he forgot he was on camera.
I used to have a weekly meeting at Panera Bread with several women I used to network with. But, during the pandemic, I moved across town. We met on Zoom for a while which was great for me because I had moved far away. Now, they are back meeting in person but the morning drive is too crazy for me so I’ve been missing out on my “girlfriend” time.
Feeling isolated can happen to you for many reasons
The pandemic made many people feel isolated socially especially those who are older and no longer working. But there are other factors that can cause social isolation. These include a change in distance, caregiving a person who is ill, being disabled, the expense, health challenges, work shutdowns, or fear of getting ill.
The danger is when that feeling of isolation turns into loneliness because it could cause a person to develop chronic health problems like heart disease, a weakened immune system, depression, anxiety, or even dementia.
It can also make you lose your confidence, or make you feel unworthy of having friends. You may even find yourself becoming a wallflower.
What can you do to stay connected when you are socially isolated?
If you are experiencing social isolation for whatever reason it may make you feel irrelevant, useless, or socially inept. In that case, take a big breath to “get yourself out of your comfort zone” and then take action to rekindle your lost relationships or connections.
Here’s what you can do to set this in motion:
- Set up times to meet friends for coffee (outside if necessary) or sit on a park bench.
- Schedule regular phone calls with your kids, family members, co-workers, or others who are important to you. Younger people may prefer to text but encourage them to call you instead.
- If you no longer drive, arrange transportation to physically meet and network with others. Take a bus, subway, train, Uber or Lyft, or have a friend drive you if you can.
- Set up a social media profile on a platform you can relate to where you can communicate with friends or make new connections. For instance, most people have a Facebook profile. Make an effort to involve yourself in conversations with them online, celebrate their birthdays, hook up for local events or just casually chat.
- Join a group exercise program or find others who live near you who love going on walks. Meetup has groups in every city and most countries where you can meet others who share your interests.If not, it’s easy to start your own Meetup group.
- Volunteer for a charitable association, join a church or synagogue, frequent your local farmer’s markets, take a class at your community college, get a pet and show up at the dog park, or hang out at your local coffee house. Find opportunities to get out of your house and get yourself back into society.
Don’t let social isolation get you down. It’s usually just a temporary thing. Be proactive in creating valuable social connections for a longer and happier life.
Have you felt socially isolated because of the pandemic or any other reason? Please leave a comment below.