Right now a lot of us are feeling very alone. We are physically isolated from our friends and our family. We aren’t allowed to go anywhere where there are large groups of people. For those who live alone, this can be complete solitary confinement. For those with multiple small children running around their house, this might sound like heaven, but for those who are living it, it can be miserable.
This sort of complete isolation is often used as a punishment, and even then it is often reserved for the worst kinds of criminals. The reason it has been reserved for only a small number of people is because it has been shown to have detrimental psychological effects on those confined.
Multiple studies have shown that isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture. Think about that. The severity of the psychological damage will depend on the individual, the length of time isolated, and the specific conditions, but some of the common effects can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis. These effects can be multiplied for inmates who had previously diagnosed mental disorders.
One statistic that stood out to me was that inmates who are isolated are 3.2 times more likely to harm themselves than those with regular social interaction. This is a devastating number. Mental health professionals are often unable to fully relieve the harm caused by social isolation.
Although many studies have been performed on inmates due to the controlled nature of the study, many of us not in prison have been feeling lonely on a regular basis, even before the required social distancing, as this infographic shows.
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. The study cited above was published in 2019. Just think how many more people must feel this way due to social distancing. As the graphic states, there are many negative effects to this feeling of loneliness. Based on a number of studies, some of these effects include:
- Alcoholism and drug abuse
- Altered brain function
- Alzheimer's disease progression
- Antisocial behavior
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Decreased memory and learning
- Depression and suicide
- Increased stress levels
- Poor decision-making
All of these studies come up with the same conclusion. It is very important for maintaining a sound body and mind for each of us to have a good amount of social interaction. “A good amount” can vary for different people, but this need is something we all share.
Science is just starting to more fully grasp this concept of the detrimental effects that isolation can have, but the Catholic Church has been promoting the good of community for thousands of years. In fact, it was founded on the concept of community.
The greatest example of a community is God himself. One God, but three persons. They all work together, expressing the love that they are.
We as Christians are called to emulate this kind of love in relationships. This is why we don’t just read our Bibles in isolation. We meet regularly in large groups to worship and pray and partake of the Eucharist. In fact, this part of the service is called COMMUNION. It is the time that we join in communion with Christ, but it is also when we join all of creation as the Body of Christ.
This past Sunday was the celebration of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. Every day we join together to celebrate the true gift that it is to have such a perfect example of love and community.
In honor of this feast day, we all should do something to celebrate. What can YOU do? Depending on your area’s current restrictions, this could be:
- Spending quality time having deep conversations with the people you live with. Here are some great conversation starting questions: https://museumhack.com/list-icebreaker-questions/
- Schedule a socially distant picnic with a friend. Recently I had lunch in a parking lot with a friend. We sat a parking space away from each other in lawn chairs.
- Call a friend or relative you know who lives alone. You can catch up, but most people’s lives aren’t too exciting right now, so maybe you two can pray a rosary together over the phone!
- Go to a park with a couple of friends and play frisbee. My husband pointed out last week that (as long as you wash your hands beforehand and don’t touch your face) this is the perfect socially distant activity! It is more fun the farther away you get!
- Write a letter to a friend. I’ve been sending out silly cards and coloring pages to my friends and family. This lets them know I’m thinking about them, but also gives them something fun to do!
These are just a couple of ideas. Hopefully they inspire you to reach out and build this community while we are being safe and can’t physically hang out in a large community. Even as we go about this new way, it is important to remember that the Church is always there for us. This body of people with Christ as the head is always moving and working. We are always together, even when we can’t physically be together.