How Your Body Can React To Chronic Isolation

by Isadora Baum, CHC

There's a fine line between staying in on a Friday night and avoiding social engagements for an entire weekend. While sometimes the body needs rest and solo time, having a social network boosts well-being, and your mind and body can negatively react to not socializing for more than a day at time. It's totally fine to be an introvert, where you're shyer and value alone time more than others, but if you're anxious about being around others or you isolate yourself too much, it might lead to loneliness and a worsened quality of life.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on finding a healthy, happy balance between work and play, and between alone time and social engagements. According to healthy lifestyle coach Liz Traines over email with Bustle, having a great network of friends and family can boost happiness and health, and it can make you feel more connected to the world at large. When you don't make time for social commitments, it's hard to foster deeper connections with people, and you're at risk of missing out on some really memorable moments and good fun. When you avoid social occasions too often over time, your mind and body can negatively react to the isolation. Here are 11 things that happen to your body and mind if you don't socialize for more than a day.

1. Poor Self-Esteem

"There's quite a bit of research in mice/animals that shows interesting physiological responses of the body to isolation, however I don't like to make a blanket statement until the human studies are published and vetted," says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT in an email to Bustle. "With that said, I do know from my work history that clients who were continuously isolated day in and day out not only developed a poor body image and self esteem over time," says Shaw.

2. Depression

Shaw says that depression can be associated with isolating yourself and not socializing for more than a day at a time. While you don't need to go out to happy hour every day of the week, it's important to at least chat with co-workers, phone a friend, or attend a fitness class, in order to see people you know and care about during the day. If you don't, your mental health could suffer, explains Shaw.

3. Loss Of Reality

According to Emily Moyer-Gusé, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus, in an interview with Huffington Post, if you stay in too often to binge watch TV shows, games, or movies, and they come to an end, it can trigger depression due to the perceived loss of reality. Deciphering between fiction and personal reality is important, and alienating yourself to tune into media too often can interfere with this brain's mechanism.

4. Increased Tumor Risk

A study at University of Chicago Medical Center reported that social alienation can lead to increased tumor growth, and this can cause abnormal growths and reduction in physical health and longevity. Cancer is really scary, so staying in too often and not making meaningful connections can definitely be worrisome.

5. Body Chills

According to a study by the Association for Psychological Science, you can literally feel chills from isolation in social circles. If you aren't surrounded by warmth and comfort, and you are isolating yourself regularly, you might notice a decrease in body temperature and increase in body chills.

6. Decreased Ability To Learn

According to researcher John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago, over interview with How Stuff Works, a science website, people who are lonely are less able to perform on learning tasks, such as puzzles and mind games, due to the rewiring in the brain. Next time, try a puzzle or work task with a friend for better results.

7. Decreased Sense Of Empathy

Cacioppo found in his research that people who are lonely are less empathetic than happier, socializing people, when shown images of pleasant and unpleasant scenarios. By isolating yourself, you're changing your brain's neurological pathways and may hinder your ability to feel and love as well as others can.

8. Inflammation

According to Traines, when you're too alienated and have a lower quality of life and happiness, it can cause depression and stress, which then shows on the body, itself. Inflammation occurs from these lifestyle aspects, and it can lead to bloating, increased risk of illnesses, digestive issues, and inability to function up to par, explains Traines.

9. Shorter Life Span

According to research by Andrew Steptoe, a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, and reported in Time, being socially isolated for more than one day can lead to a chronic reduction in longevity and an increase in mortality. This fact is pretty scary, so boost physical health by putting yourself out there more with others.

10. Increased Risk Of Dementia

“Many scientists believe that social interaction is necessary for maintaining good mental health and may even help prevent or delay certain mental diseases including dementia and Alzheimer's," says Rita Milios, LCSW, psychotherapist and expert writer for Pro Corner on over email with Bustle. "A 2008 study in American Journal of Public Health found that older women who had large social networks had 26 percent less risk of developing dementia and cognitive impairment," says Milios.

11. Reduced Resilience

"No matter the struggle that is causing pains and isolation, social occurrences are crucial for a person’s happiness. Close, loving relationships and social interactions lead to the development of resilience, coping skills, and higher self-esteem," advises Milios. "In the absence of these crucial connections and the resulting benefits, it’s much easier for isolation to form, which can lead to loneliness," says Milios.

If you notice any of these conditions from staying home too often, it's worth trying to get out more and make plans with friends, family, and co-workers. Being around people and having close connections can be such a joy in life, so try to embrace it and find a happier balance between solo nights and those with others.

Images: Pixabay (10); Pexels (2)