While government officials remain hopeful that life may finally return to normal by September 2021, the effects of isolation are becoming known. Stay-at-home orders may not be productive to your mental health, but scientists admit they need to do lots more study. Unfortunately, if you have been socially isolating during the pandemic, you may not have time to wait on the research.
What Are Some of the Long-term Effects of Social Distancing?
Humans are social animals, so when they deny themselves the ability to gather in groups, physical and mental changes occur. These changes may include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Sense of hopelessness
- Increased risk of suicide
- More extensive attempts to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol
Are There Physical Changes in the Brain?
When a person is forced to or chooses to isolate socially, physical changes can be seen in the brain.
Less Prefrontal Cortex Volume
Scientists who have done previous studies of socially isolated individuals, like those on space crews, found that they had less prefrontal cortex volume. These individuals exhibited poorer decision-making skills and were less likely to behave according to social norms. Other research suggests that some people may be born with more prefrontal cortex volume than others, which may be why some people are naturally introverts while others are extroverts.
Reduced Hippocampus Volume
Scientists also noted reduced volume in the hippocampus area of the brain. Therefore, researchers believe that these individuals lose some of their ability to learn and remember what they know. Additionally, researchers believe that social distancing individuals may experience more stress than other individuals because the level of cortisol in their brains becomes higher. Increased volumes of stress hormones may also cause depression in individuals who are socially isolating.
Smaller Amygdala Size
Research also shows that the amygdala becomes smaller in individuals who have stayed in social isolation. These parts of the brain help people display appropriate emotions. This change seems particularly prevalent in children who may be homeschooled when they would typically be interacting with peers in the classroom or social activities.
What Can a Person Do to Overcome Long Term Effects of Social Distancing During the Pandemic?
There are several things that a person can do to try to combat the long term effects of social distancing.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eggs, almonds, blueberries, fish, avocados, and dark chocolate can help boost mental health. Try to incorporate some of them into your diet daily. Avoid eating a diet that is high in processed foods that are high in sugar. Not only will you pack on fewer pounds, but your brain will stay healthier.
It is easy to socially distance when you exercise outdoors, so call some friends and get moving. Parks often offer hiking trails that can be excellent places to go for a hike. Your body will release dopamine, which is a natural mood booster. Research also shows that interacting with nature helps lower stress levels, reduces anger and helps fight off fear.
Even if it is just some deep breathing exercises, meditation helps you relax. You can also find great meditation videos to help you take your relaxation to the next level.
There are many adverse effects of social isolation. If you feel yourself getting depressed, stressed and anxious regularly, talking to a counselor can help.