Coping with Loneliness and Isolation

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Many young adults struggle with loneliness. For example, a national survey found that almost 70% of Gen-Zers and 71% of millennials are lonely vs. 50% of baby-boomers (1,2).

For some, this could be further increased by COVID 19 (Corona)related social distancing, quarantine, isolation.

Feelings of loneliness can increase symptoms of depression (3) and over time, worsen cognitive function (4).

The American Psychological Association offers the following strategies to cope with loneliness/isolation (5):

  • When possible, plan ahead by considering how you might spend your time, who you can contact for psychosocial support and how you can address any physical or mental health needs.
  • Create and follow a daily routine. This can help with a sense of order and purpose. Try to include regular daily activities, such as work, exercise or learning, and other healthy activities as needed.
  • Maintain virtual contact such as phone calls, text messages, video chat and social media to access social support networks.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep, eat well and exercise in your home when you are physically capable of doing so. Try to avoid using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with the stresses of isolation and quarantine.
  • Consider telehealth or telecounseling (see  campus and surrounding resources below).
  • Limit excessive news consumption to reliable sources because too much exposure to media coverage can increase feelings of fear and anxiety.
    • Balance this time with other activities unrelated to quarantine or isolation, such as reading, listening to music or learning a new language.

Psychological strategies to manage stress and stay positive during times of loneliness/isolation (5):

  • Take a look at your worries and aim to be realistic in your assessment of the actual concern as well as your ability to cope. Keeping a dairy may help.
  • Focus on what you can do and accept the things you can’t change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal. This will help you appreciate the positives which can help reduce stress.
  • Practice mindfulness and relaxation exercises. There many online resources that can help, including our mental health strategies video series.
  • Focusing on the altruistic reasons for social distancing, quarantine or isolation can also help mitigate psychological distress. Remember that by taking such measures, you are reducing the possibility of transmitting COVID-19 and protecting those who are most vulnerable.

Other strategies:

  • For some, periodic isolation can be a time of solitude—an opportunity to step back from your daily life and re-focus on your priorities and longer term goals. This can help you better deal with shorter term challenges. This can also help you identify things that you could add or subtract when you return to your usual life.  What tasks or goals have you been putting off that you can now address because of this time? Can you do research on future goals?
  • Change the scene. Take a walk outside when possible. Fresh air, and seeing others even at a distance may help reduce feelings of loneliness.
  • Consider online discussion groups based on hobbies such as books, movies, shows, crafts, gaming, video games, professional interests, sports, community area, etc.
  • Consider a discussion group with your classmates.
  • Many places now offer online group fitness, yoga, and virtual races.
  • Schedule a time to virtual visits with friends or family.
  • Campus and surrounding resources related to mental health.

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Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

 References:

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-loneliness-in-a-time-of-social-distancing/
  2. https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/cigna-2020-loneliness-factsheet.pdf
  3. Cacioppo JT, Hawkley LC, Thisted RA. Perceived social isolation makes me sad: 5-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychol Aging. 2010;25(2):453–463. doi:10.1037/a0017216
  4. Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S. Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Evidence-Based Nursing 2014;17:59-60.
  5. https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

 

9 ways that college students can meet people

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Some people think that humans by nature are social beings. That we need some degree of social connection/interaction with others to maintain our own well-being, manage stress, happiness, and overall emotional health.

Each person may need to tailor the amount and type of social interaction based on their personality, needs, and available options.

Is there any research on social support and mental health of college students?

There are many studies, some of them have found the following:

  • In one study of college students, lower perceived social support was found to have a 6 fold increase in depression risk relative to higher perceived social support (1).
  • Another study found that peer support benefits mental health (2).
  • In another study, social support from family and friends jointly influenced about 80 % of the effect of life satisfaction and hopelessness on drinking alcohol (3).
  • Finally, a study of about 1200 students found that students with higher social support had better mental health (4).

What 9 possible ways for college students to meet people, deal with loneliness, and increase social support?

  1. Check out the OSU campus student organizations page for organizations such as Active Minds, Peers Reaching out, Boo-Radley and others.
  2. OSU-Rec Sports has various play options.
  3. Check out over 1300 different student organizations focused on different interests/hobbies
  4. Consider relevant courses based around sports, or other hobbies/interests.
  5. Volunteer opportunities at OSU: https://engage.osu.edu/for-alumni-and-friends/volunteer-opportunities.html
  6. Therapy treatment Groups at CCS
  7. Support Groups in the community: National alliance on Mental Illness, Hands On Central Ohio 211.
  8. There are pros and cons of social media and online support communities.
  9. https://www.affordablecollegesonline.org/college-resource-center/social-support-campus/

Any additional resources?

Think of current or past friendships, relationships, etc. that have been meaningful/supportive.  Can you think of a way to periodically connect with them in person, online or by phone?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Hefner, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2009). Social support and mental health among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79(4), 491-499. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0016918
  2. O’Connell MJ, Sledge WH, Staeheli M, Sells D, Costa M, Wieland M, Davidson L. Outcomes of a Peer Mentor Intervention for Persons With Recurrent Psychiatric Hospitalization. Psychiatr Serv. 2018 Apr 16:appips201600478. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201600478. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Catie CW Lai and Cecilia MS Ma. The mediating role of social support in the relationship between psychological well-being and health-risk behaviors among Chinese university students. Health Psychology Open.  https://doi.org/10.1177/2055102916678106 First Published November 8, 2016
  4. Tahmasbipour, A. Taheri. A Survey on the Relation Between Social Support and Mental Health in Students Shahid Rajaee University. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Volume 47, 2012, Pages 5-9, ISSN 1877-0428, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.603.

 

Mental Health Benefits of Volunteering

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”  – Oscar Wilde (1)

For some people, this time of year marks the beginning of the holiday season.  This can involve giving and receiving gifts, time, generosity, and other practices.

While people may have heard about the benefits of altruism, what does the research say?

After looking 9631 papers, the authors(2,3) identified and reviewed 40 research studies looking at the impact of volunteering on physical and mental health of the volunteers.

Who were the participants? (2)

Participants varied in age, but reached several thousand across different types of studies (2).

What were the results? (2)

Volunteering had a favorable effect on depression, life satisfaction and well-being in the large cohort type studies with lengthy follow up (2; 4-8).

What are some caveats?

  • The exact relationship between health benefits and volunteering remains complex and many factors may be involved (3).
  • There are many types of volunteer activities.
  • Further research is needed to understand motivating factors, frequency, dose, type of volunteering, etc. that provides the most health benefits.

What are come campus resources on Volunteering?

How does volunteering impact you?  Can helping others help YOU feel better?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. https://discovercorps.com/blog/50-inspirational-quotes-volunteering/
  2. Jenkinson CE, Dickens AP, Jones K, et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health. 2013;13:773. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-773.
  3. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/01/generosity-health_n_4323727.html
  4. Konrath S, Fuhrel-Forbis A, Lou A, Brown S: Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychol. 2012, 31: 87-96.
  5. Ayalon L: Volunteering as a predictor of all-cause mortality: what aspects of volunteering really matter?. Int Psychogeriatr. 2008, 20: 1000-1013.
  6. Harris AHS, Thoresen CE: Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: analysis of the longitudinal study of aging. J Health Psychol. 2005, 10: 739-752. 10.1177/1359105305057310.
  7. Jung Y, Gruenewald TL, Seeman T, Sarkisian C: Productive activities and development of frailty in older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2010, 65B: 256-261. 10.1093/geronb/gbp105.
  8. Oman D, Thoresen CE, McMahon K: Volunteerism and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly. J Health Psychol. 1999, 4: 301-316.