Close your eyes and think back to two years ago. Had you ever heard the term “social distancing?” Would you ever envision being advised to consciously physically stay away from others, including close friends and family members? And could you imagine the toll it could have on our emotional health?
It was a weird and difficult time for sure. While it’s a bit different now – and there’s the hope that we’ll never have to return to that level – the effects of social distancing are becoming more common as more and more people report signs of social isolation. We know that social interaction is important for mental health and that isolation from others can lead to depression, anxiety and physical health problems such as high blood pressure and sleep disorders. But for some, the impact may not be so obvious.
We have all experienced social isolation to various degrees throughout the pandemic, so it’s important to think about how it has influenced our behaviors and routines. Here are five signs that you may not regularly think about, but may be indicators that social isolation could be having an impact on you:
- Anhedonia. This is a clinical term for a common symptom of depression. It is the inability to experience pleasure from activities you may usually like to do, like exercising, certain hobbies or recreational events. Anhedonia can be experienced to varying degrees, and in minor forms might look like consistent boredom or a lack of motivation to think of activities you would enjoy.
- Feeling relief when canceling plans. Sometimes we make plans with others, but have to bail out due to being tired, other priorities popping up or simply not feeling up to it. This happens to all of us, but if it has become more frequent – or to the point where you try to avoid making plans all together – it could be a sign that social isolation is negatively impacting you. Yes, it can be hard trying to get back into seeing people again after the past two years, just like it can be hard getting back to the gym after it’s been awhile. The more you stick with your plans, the easier it will become to see people again.
- Unfulfilling connections with friends and family. Maybe you find yourself canceling plans with friends and family because you don’t find enjoyment or fulfillment in your interactions with them. Or you may even feel like you are alone despite having plenty of people in your life. A connection was lost and it’s important to try and notice this change. Let them know you have been feeling disconnected; there’s a chance they may feel the same way but didn’t recognize it or they didn’t know how to bring it up with you. Remember – positive change requires making a change. Being open with others can push you in the right direction.
- Reduction in hygienic activity. Are you taking care of yourself the way you used to? It may be going from showering once a day to every three days or longer. You might not brush your teeth as frequently or you wear the same clothes multiple days in a row. How we care for ourselves says a lot and the pandemic had a major impact on daily routines. If you are not taking care of yourself like you once did, it’s important to understand the underlying cause of this change.
- Increase or decrease in food consumption. Have you noticed that you might be going longer between meals or even skipping meals altogether? Or you are feeling hungry more often and have been eating more as a result? How much we eat can be just as important as what we eat since our environment, lifestyle, mental health and physical health can impact our appetite. Changes in appetite are an important indicator that something might be going on.
It’s also important to note that these signs can develop gradually over time, which can make them tough to identify at times. But the more they go left unchecked, the worse the symptoms can become and negatively impact your life.
If any of these resonate with you, it’s first important to engage in a truthful dialogue with yourself. This is where you try to understand what you are feeling or experiencing and decide what kind of help you might need.
Sometimes talking to a trusted friend or relative can be enough to clear things up, as well as being a way to hold yourself accountable. Let someone else in on what you are experiencing and the steps you are taking to change. Keep an open dialogue and update them on how things are going. The only way to recover from social isolation is to not do it alone! Compare your pre-pandemic behaviors with your current ones and brainstorm ways to get yourself back into the routines you may have lost.
If you feel like you need more help, seeking a counselor may be the next step. Counselors like me are seeing more and more people dealing with the social and emotional struggles left behind from the pandemic. Through connecting with one of our counselors, we can share our expertise to help you better cope and manage any difficulties that you may be having. Of course, CCNH’s Mental Health Counseling Services is here to help you in any way we can.
Danielle Capelle is the director of CCNH’s Mental Health Counseling Services, and a licensed clinical mental health counselor. She specializes in working with adolescents/teens, adults, couples and families on challenges related to anxiety/stress, difficult life adjustments, depression and trauma. She is based out of our Concord, and Manchester, NH offices.