As human beings, we thrive on connection and positive social interaction. Research shows that social interaction promotes our mental and physical well-being and happiness. Looking at the factors that most contribute to happiness, different studies find that social connections, love and intimacy are the most important aspects in achieving personal satisfaction.
Despite the genuine human need to connect, it appears that a large number of people are suffering from feelings of deep isolation and loneliness.
The Epidemic of Loneliness
According to a survey of 20,000 people aged 18–24 in the United States, almost half of adolescents and young adults surveyed reported feelings of extreme loneliness and isolation. Results showed that 46% of young people sometimes or always feel alone, while 43% of the survey participants said their relationships are not meaningful.
Similarly, research shows that loneliness is one of the greatest fears among the aging population. People seem to become more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness as they grow older. Studies show that many people feel lonely and cut off from social circles, particularly those over the age of 75.
People who lack social interaction can experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Although loneliness isn’t technically a classified psychological disorder, a lack of social connections and a sense of helplessness can dramatically reduce the quality of one’s life.
Even when surrounded by other people in our families, relationships, classrooms or offices, we can still feel profoundly isolated and lonely. Loneliness is not limited by age, gender, ethnic background, profession or marital status.
Everyone wants a little time alone occasionally. Creating time away from family members or colleagues at work is a vital aspect of self-care. Spending time alone is crucial to maintaining healthy personal boundaries.
Choosing to spend time alone means tuning in to your emotions and encouraging yourself to do things that you find pleasurable. If you have a better relationship with yourself, you are going to be more involved with others.
That being said, too much isolation is harmful. Here are eight things that happen to people who don’t socialize:
1. Isolation Can Lead to Physical Illness
New studies show that loneliness and lack of social contact can contribute to both mental and physical illness. Different studies that followed thousands of people from adolescence to old age have shown a clear connection between the number of social relationships a person has had during his or her life and their physical health.
These studies suggest that loneliness can cause mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. In addition, there is increasing scientific evidence that loneliness and lack of social interaction also lead to an increased risk of physical illness.
Loneliness can increase the risk of stress and depression. These conditions, in turn, can cause inflammation in the body, weakening your immune system and causing you to experience digestive problems, bloating, infections and other health issues.
When we feel stressed, the body produces a hormone called cortisol. This neurochemical is linked to depression, and it has a significant effect on the brain as well as the human body as a whole. Studies show that the brains of lonely people produce more cortisol. Over time, increased levels of cortisol can cause severe physical illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and other health conditions.
One study showed that social alienation could cause increased tumor risk and abnormal growth of tumor cells.
2. People Who Don’t Socialize Have Poor Self-Esteem
It is believed that people who feel continuously isolated develop poor body image and self-esteem. Self-esteem reflects how we feel about ourselves. If you have low self-esteem, you will tend to see yourself as unlovable or unworthy. This negative self-perception can affect your behavior and cause you to feel negatively about yourself, usually further diminishing your self-esteem.
On the other hand, if you have positive self-esteem, you will most likely have a rational and well-balanced perception of your personality and abilities. You are more likely to be compassionate and caring towards yourself.
Adolescents are one age group that is particularly vulnerable to low self-esteem and body image problems. The transitions that the body and the mind undergo during adolescence can be challenging. Such changes, along with pressure from peers and the media, can cause a wide range of problems, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, rapid mood swings, alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety and depression. Social isolation, in turn, will further weaken the self-esteem and confidence of a young person.
3. Social Alienation Can Lead to Anxiety and Depression
Lack of socialization is commonly associated with depression. People who do not socially engage are at higher risk of developing anxiety disorder and depression.
People who have close, long-term friends cope better with challenges and stress than those who are socially withdrawn. In general, close friendships and social interaction can improve your mood and help maintain good emotional, mental and physical health.
Sadness and anxiety are reasonable and manageable emotions that everyone experiences now and then. Although not pleasant, these emotions usually don’t have a lasting impact on our physical and mental health, relationships or performance at school and work.
However, in people who feel depressed and alone, feelings of sorrow, anxiety or fear can linger for weeks or months, increasing in intensity and causing more misery every day. Depressive thoughts and feelings may lead to disrupted sleep habits, no appetite, low sex drive or constant worry accompanied by a variety of physical symptoms.
Studies show that people who experience depression are at high risk of suicide, regardless of age. Adolescents are a high-risk group: suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers. Although not every depressive person is suicidal, most people who commit suicide have been struggling with depression. One of the main risk factors for suicide is loneliness and isolation.
4. Social Isolation Contributes to Dementia and Poor Mental Health in the Elderly
Social engagement is a vital factor in healthy aging. Studies show that seniors who stay socially active experience numerous benefits, including better physical health, good emotional health and improved cognitive function.
Research by the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, found that people over 80 years of age who display the mental ability of much younger people (the researchers called them “super-agers”) have close friends.
Another survey in California showed that aging women with strong social networks had a 26% lower risk of developing dementia.
Socialization helps the brain stay flexible and active. Engaging with other people challenges the brain and helps it stay healthy. Also, people with large social networks have more memories, which keep their brain active and may slow the progress of cognitive impairment.
Loneliness and isolation are closely linked to an increased risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, stress and mood disorders. Staying socially active generates a strong sense of belonging and inclusion, strengthens connections between people and reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness.
5. Lack of Social Engagement Reduces Resilience
Resilience involves the ability to adapt well to stress. Being resilient means that you can adapt to adversity, cope with stress and quickly recover after a crisis. Resilience is a foundation of life success, which helps you manage your personal and professional life better, achieve your goals and be happy.
Social interaction helps build resilience because we naturally draw strength from the presence and support of other people. Many studies have shown that healthy relationships and social support are essential in maintaining good mental and physical health.
Positive social interactions with those around you help you to feel accepted and connect with others in a meaningful way. Also, talking about personal challenges can help you feel less stressed when you are under pressure.
On the other hand, lack of social connections and positive social support can lead to an increased risk of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem and depression, all of which diminish your coping mechanisms and reduce resilience to stress.
6. Loneliness Increases Mortality
A wealth of research indicates that loneliness is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality. Isolation and loneliness can interfere with cognitive functions and emotional well-being, which in turn increases the risk of death. The feeling of loneliness in older adults can impair a person’s executive functioning skills and sleep, as well as their mental, physical and emotional well-being. Together, these factors may lead to higher rates of morbidity and mortality.
Research shows that social isolation predicts mortality in the same manner as clinical risk factors do, such as smoking, high cholesterol or increased blood pressure.
7. People Who Don’t Socialize Have a Decreased Sense of Empathy
Alienation can diminish your ability to empathize with others. By not socializing, you may have a harder time understanding other people’s feelings and needs.
The concept of empathy refers to emotional and cognitive reactions to other people’s perceived experiences. Compassion requires an ability to recognize and understand how other people feel and using these skills to communicate more effectively with others and build successful relationships.
People with high levels of empathy are more likely to have positive relationships and function well in society. By contrast, a lack of empathy leads to poor communication, disappointment, frustration and isolation. Those who lack empathy cannot put themselves in another person’s position to understand how they feel and think.
People with low levels of empathy are also too focused on themselves and usually don’t trust others. They aren’t compassionate and others cannot rely on them or trust them.
8. Lack of Socialization Takes its Toll on Brain Health
While scientists are not sure what produces the positive effects in the brain among socially engaged people, many studies support this positive influence. People who lack social connections are at greater risk of diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. It appears that close friendships and secure social networks have a positive effect on memory and the brain’s plasticity as people age.
The brain can change and adapt throughout life by forming new neural connections or reinforcing existing ones, strengthening existing behavior patterns, expanding current behaviors or adapting to entirely new patterns of behavior. Social interaction helps the brain remain active and flexible throughout life. This allows our brain to adapt to new situations or a new environment.
Isolation decreases the plasticity and flexibility of the brain, affecting our ability to learn and solve problems successfully.
How to Socialize with People
To maintain our psychological, emotional and physical well-being, we need supportive social interactions that make us feel respected and accepted. Here are six ways to strengthen and maintain positive social connections:
1. Join Online Communities
In recent years, we have shifted a considerable amount of our social activity to the digital space. There are many websites or chatrooms where you can socialize and chat with people who have common interests or experiences.
Online chat rooms are communities organized around a specific topic that you can join for free. Whether you are facing challenges in life or you just want to talk with someone new, you can join online chat groups such as a Zoom mixer meeting service to speak to people in a community of your choice. VideoSocialize is a company providing such a service to connect and socialize with new people.
2. Laugh Often
People who laugh often tend to be seen as friendly, successful and confident. Laughter encourages positive thoughts and affirmations, boosting your self-esteem and confidence.
Confidence and a positive attitude make you magnetic to other people. Laughter can help you maintain a sense of humor regardless of the difficulty of the situation; it improves communication and enhances empathy.
Laughter releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which are also known as “hormones of happiness”. Thesehave an analgesic effect that is very similar to antidepressant medications.
One study found that the calming effects of the endorphins promote a sense of safety and togetherness and help foster social connections. Laughter helps to relieve tension and keeps us positive, flexible and open to possibilities. Studies show that people who often laugh tend to think more optimistically.
Laughter improves self-esteem and helps strengthen the bond between people, as they share the same sense of humor.
3. Express Gratitude
Research confirms the benefits of gratitude on our happiness and good mental health. Surveys show that gratitude has the power to rewire the brain, making it more sensitive to experiencing gratitude. Simple expressions of gratitude, such as counting your blessings each day, can have lasting benefits on your mental health and overall well-being.
Other acts of gratitude, such as expressing kindness, compassion and positivity, can also help one to feel more positive emotions and boost happiness. Gratefulness creates positive feelings, improves mood, and promotes happiness. Research also shows that gratitude strengthens relationships and fosters self-esteem. People who regularly practice gratitude feel better, express more kindness and compassion, sleep better and have a stronger immune system.
Taking time to notice and reflect upon things you are thankful for can improve your relationships and nurture positive social interactions. Gratitude motivates us to get in touch with people who have done something good for us.
When you feel grateful, it is easier to identify people who are receptive to your needs and to create connections with them.
4. Tend To Your Social Network
Spend time with family members, friends and other people in your life. Regularly meeting up with other people is a great way to spend time with those who care about you and share the same interests and needs.
Take time to maintain these important relationships. Like everything else that has worth in life, relationships, whether they be romantic, familial or platonic, require care and maintenance.
Acknowledging people in your life will help you connect and bond. In addition, treating others with kindness and compassion can be beneficial to your mental health. Demonstrating kindness and compassion stimulates hormones that reduce stress and increase resilience. It also increases the production of serotonin, which helps manage depression. Close friendships can reduce stress, improve emotional well-being and promote physical health.
5. Volunteer in Your Local Community
Becoming a volunteer within your local community gives you a sense of purpose, builds confidence, strengthens social connections and improves mood. Enquire about volunteering at local schools, retirement homes, animal shelters or community centers, as these places are often looking for help from all ages.
6. Join a Fitness Center
The benefits of exercise on mental and physical health are well known. Regular exercise can lift your mood, help you maintain good physical health and relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
Scientific evidence proves that physical activity promotes a variety of changes in the brain. Exercise can rewire our brain, stimulating the growth of neurons and neural connections and creating new activity patterns that trigger feelings of self-possession and happiness.
Exercise helps release dopamine and endorphins, increasing their level in our blood. These powerful neurochemicals in our brain are natural pain relievers. They encourage the growth of new cells and connections in our minds, helping revitalize our spirits and making us feel good.
Exercise is also an excellent opportunity to meet other people and socialize. Joining a sports club or racing, biking or hiking groups not only helps you stay fit and healthy but also promotes socialization.
Social isolation can severely impact your emotional strength, mental well-being and physical health. Social isolation is often linked to severe health concerns such as cancer, inflammation, hypertension and other diseases.
In addition, social isolation can cause anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. People who don’t socialize may struggle with reduced resilience and have difficulties coping with stress. They also have less empathy towards others, which further strains their relationships.
Finally, research shows that isolation and loneliness can interfere with cognitive functions and represent a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality.
Even in times of social distancing, you don’t have to be alone. Sign up for Zoom meetings for socializing at VideoSocialize and join weekly mixer meetings to meet people, expand your social network and stay healthy.
Articles on the videosocialize.com blog are commissioned by VideoSocialize from talented writers with a variety of backgrounds. All articles copyright VideoSocialize. Would you be interested in sharing your thoughts on this article in a 4 person Zoom discussion which would be uploaded to YouTube? If so, please contact us.
A psychologist with over sixteen years of experience in mental health and education with a degree in Psychology. Passionate about exploring and writing about the subtle layers of the human inner world. Happy to share knowledge, doubts, and experience with others. As a freelance writer with eight years of experience enjoys researching and writing unique and enlightening articles on a variety of psychology, mental health, and child development topics. A wife and the mother of two, a teenager and an almost-teenager. Loves travel, cats, and nature.