Social isolation can cause harm

Graphic by Shawn McCrea

By Isabelle Link, Staff Reporter

Although states across the nation are ending shelter-in-place restrictions in response to President Donald Trump’s urging to open the country, there are plenty of people still following strict social distancing practices. While it is important to stay safe during this time, some Amarillo College professors say people need to be aware of the negative impact social isolation has on the human psyche and how to handle it.

“Social isolation can wreak havoc on an individual’s physical, mental and cognitive health,” Alan Kee, a psychology professor, said. “Adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”

Beth Rodriguez, a psychology professor, said she agreed with the risks of social isolation.

“I do believe isolation is affecting certain people and their mental health,” she said, “We are seeing reports of higher levels of anxiety, depression, domestic violence. People are losing their feeling of being in control and therefore showing more signs of mental health issues.”

Apart from the mental issues, social distancing has also been linked to physical issues as well.

According to Kee, recent research has shown loneliness leads to  a 30 percent increase of risk of stroke or the development of coronary heart disease. Another study linked social isolation and loneliness with a 40 percent increase in a person’s risk of dementia.

“The magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical inactivity,” Kee said.

“The lack of stimulation for the environment could cause cognitive decline similar to what we sometimes see when people retire,” Rodriguez said.

You can interact without being in right next to someone. Call people, FaceTime, and let others know how you are feeling so you have someone to share the hard times with

Beth Rodriguez, psychology professor

Kee said he believed everyone requires a different amount of socialization to be healthy, so it can be complicated for people to get what they need while social distancing.

“Some people are introverted and do not need as much as people with an extroverted personality; however, I think it is more important to focus on the fact that all people can benefit from social support in order to cope effectively,” he said.

There are several ways to reap the benefits of social support.

“You can interact without being in right next to someone. Call people, FaceTime, and let others know how you are feeling so you have someone to share the hard times with,” Rodriguez said.

Kee said other activities to boost mental health while in isolation include creating something, working on a home project, taking a bath, lighting scented candles or even planning for the future.

Hope Demery, a social work major, said she recommends focusing on taking care of yourself during this time.

“I would recommend staying active and healthy, keeping up on basic hygiene and practicing self care. Work out or go on a walk. Anything to get active and still communicate with people,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people will be kind of messed up from this, but there are a lot of resources to help people during this time, so it is important to utilize them.”

For emotional support during this time, students can call the AC Counseling Center at 806-371-5900 to schedule an appointment. Family Support Services in Amarillo is also open to providing support to citizens. To schedule an appointment,call 806-342-2500. For immediate assistance, the 24-hour crisis link is 806-374-5433.

Kee also recommended the following websites and resources:

  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindful Self Compassion videos:
  • Christopher Germer on Mindful Self-Compassion:
  • Self-Compassion with Dr Kristin Neff::

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