Possible Health Consequences Of Long-Term Isolation

By Ellen Kershner on May 24 2020 in Society

Staying in self-isolation for too long can result in severe health consequences. Image credit: Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash
Staying in self-isolation for too long can result in severe health consequences. Image credit: Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash
  • Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations like long-term isolation.
  • Depression and anxiety can cause people to overeat, drink too much, and take drugs.
  • Reducing physical activity contributes to weight gain and a host of physical ailments
  • It has been proven that a lack of physical activity, poor eating habits, and loneliness can all contribute to serious mental and physical health consequences.

There are a lot of good things to be said about peace and solitude, but the average person can only take so much of it. Months into the coronavirus lockdown, people around the world are starting to get stir-crazy. Some cities are easing up on their lockdown, but in other places it will be quite some time before things really open back up again.

It is hard enough to be quarantined with family members or a few friends, but living alone for long periods of time can be even more difficult. Here are some possible physical and emotional impacts of long-term self-isolation.

Anxiety and Depression

Self-isolation can lead to depression. Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations like long-term isolation. Symptoms can include a general feeling of restlessness and agitation, constant worrying, irritability, fatigue, tenseness, and panic attacks. Anxiety can also make it hard to sleep.

Depression can go hand-in-hand with anxiety, and it is easy to see how isolation and loneliness can cause it. Feelings of fatigue, a loss of interest in things, pessimism, and suicidal thoughts can all be symptoms. Depression and anxiety can cause people to overeat, drink too much, and take drugs. Little or no contact with family and friends can cause people to slide into these kinds of unhealthy habits.

Impaired Executive Function

Executive functions allow individuals to carry out the daily tasks of living and communicate with others. These skills encompass the ability to concentrate, planning and organization, controlling behaviors and emotions, and mental skills like focusing, processing information, problem-solving, multitasking, and time management. Being cooped up for a long time can impact these, causing individuals to feel as though they are moving through a fog. Other symptoms include mood issues, confusion, and problems completing routine tasks.

Poor Physical Health

It is important to get some outdoor exercise during the pandemic. Photo by Jonny Kennaugh on Unsplash

Although hordes of people have been outside walking, biking, and exercising, others have been acting more like hermits and not leaving their homes. According to Nature.com, adults need to have at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity exercise that provides aerobic benefits to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk.”

Reducing physical activity contributes to weight gain and a host of physical ailments, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Unhealthy diets on top of a lack of exercise increase the risk even further.

Accelerated Cognitive Decline

Prolonged isolation can lead to cognitive decline. Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

A Harvard Aging Brain Study suggested that loneliness and isolation can also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. This research looked at 79 “cognitively normal adults,” and assessed their loneliness and the amounts of the chemical amyloid in their brains. Increased amyloid levels is a main indicator for Alzheimer’s, and the researchers found a link between this and loneliness. In a different study, the same researchers found that over a 12-year period, the subjects’ loneliness was linked to deteriorating cognitive function.

A 2018 research study sponsored by Florida State University College of Medicine found that loneliness is also associated with a 40% higher risk of getting dementia. The researchers followed 12,000 adults ages 50 and up for 10 years, rating their levels of social isolation, loneliness, and cognitive abilities.

Impaired Immunity

University of California professor of medicine Steven Cole, MD led a study in 2015 to explore how loneliness can affect overall health. He and his group found that participants’ leukocytes showed a decrease in genes that are involved with antiviral responses and an increase in genes related to inflammation.

Staying Healthy

Loneliness can be harmful to a person's physical health. Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

It has been proven that a lack of physical activity, poor eating habits, and loneliness can all contribute to serious mental and physical health consequences. Sitting in front of the television all day and eating junk food will only make things worse. Breaking out of this rut is not always easy, but it is the best way to stay healthy.

There are countless online support groups to help combat loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Many are holding online meetings during the lockdown, and are happy to take on new members. You can also “phone a friend,” or meet up with friends online. Seeing a friendly face and talking about your feelings does wonders.

Eating healthy can be accomplished by starting out with a strategy. Planning out healthy meals for every day of the week and creating a corresponding shopping list is a good way to start. This way, you will have the ingredients you need and will be less likely to heat up a prepackaged macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Even if you are not into physical activity, you still need to get up and moving. Getting started is the hardest part, so it is recommended to start out small. Try taking short walks every day and building up from there. This is also a good time to try a new sport, like bicycling or to adopt a dog. They need to be walked several times a day, and can also provide great company!

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