In the last few weeks in France I have been coming across more cases of people who are isolated, either as individuals, or as couples who rely totally upon each other and rarely get out into the world. When you don’t speak the local language fluently it is all too easy to stay in your own little bubble. In general, our society is increasingly an isolating experience with more young people leaving home to live a single life, marrying later or becoming elderly and living apart from family. Many of us rely on social media and the internet to fill the void of real interaction, which can leave us vulnerable for a number of reasons.
The important thing to understand is that humans are pack animals. Our brains are hardwired for social interaction and living in a close community. Early humans did not live alone, they stayed in groups and worked together to hunt, make shelter, raise children and provide protection and support for each other.
Even though we have evolved in many ways since then, research confirms that being isolated and feeling alone is not good for our health. Lack of emotional support and regular interaction with others has been shown to increase anxiety while gradually decreasing our ability to cope. When we are alone too much our level of stress hormones increases, which can lead to a poor quality of sleep and a compromised immune system. In elderly people, isolation also leads to cognitive decline, as monotonous lack of stimulation day in and day out can cause people to turn their attention inwards far too much. There is a good reason why solitary confinement is considered a cruel and unusual form of punishment in prisons!
The evidence is clear that connection with other people is essential to health and those connections need to be meaningful and with a variety of people who challenge and support us in different ways. Whether you are in rural France or a big city in the U.K., it is vital to avoid prolonged periods of isolation. Seek out more social contacts, get to know your neighbours, learn the local language, find voluntary work, take an evening class, start a book club or a new hobby, talk to your spouse about how you can get out more as a couple and as individuals … in short find ways to build relationships and reduce seclusion, and take care of your mental health.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, counselling can help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Please contact me via the Contact page to discuss whether counselling is right for you.