The Negative Effects of Stress and Isolation
Human beings are social animals; we are designed to live and work with others. Without a community, individuals are prone to stress associated with isolation as the innate need for human connection is deprived.
Stress can negatively affect the body, mind, feelings, and behavior. Isolation causes a specific type of stress that is more serious than just a bad mood. With no one to communicate with, we are stuck with a dialogue with ourselves. The more stressed we become, the more negative and hurtful the self-dialogue can become.
With constant isolation, our mind can begin to play tricks on us. Our feelings turn into a catalyst of torture and, with such hardship, our behavior can transform completely. With altered behavior, the common trend is that people seem to lean toward self-destructive actions that contribute to the negative spiral.
In addition to the distress isolation causes, unchecked stress can lead to health problems. Our bodies respond to stress by releasing stress hormones, which help in short-term situations—this is the fight, flight or flee response that helps us react when our lives are in danger. For example: we see a tiger, we run, thus prolonging our life. However, the stress response is designed only for short-term situations like this. After the tiger has moved on, the stress disappears.
In the case of long-term stress, the consistent presence of stress hormones in the body slowly eats at the body and mind like an acid. The constant heightened responses can cause extreme stress, panic attacks, and can generally make a person feel like the world is a hostile and lonely place.
When a person lives in constant anxiety, heightened by the biological processes intended for short-term situations, we experience considerable misery and torment. Our biological nature is intended to include times of relaxation and relief from such intense situations. Without this relief, a person can spiral into a state of tortured anxiety.
Stress and Drug Addiction
Everyone experiences stress differently. Where one person might recognize the stress, attempt to identify the source and work toward dissolving the root cause, others try to escape.
Not all stress can be eliminated, however. A healthy way to manage such stress is to accept its existence and attempt to use it in a positive way. For example: perhaps you’re in a stressful work situation. One way to handle such a situation is to address the stress head on. If your boss is asking you to complete a difficult project quickly, communicate your concerns to your boss then use the assignment’s difficulty as motivation to work hard. But this requires quite a bit of healthy coping skills and self-awareness.
More commonly, people under intense or chronic stress try to escape. However, when the stress is rooted in your own biology or your own way of looking at the world, wherever you go, stress will follow.
When stress is constant and no matter what you do, no relief can be found, the tendency to self-medicate becomes commonplace. Having a drink after a stressful day may not seem bad, but the insidious nature of relying on a mood or mind-altering substance to relieve stress is problematic.
Relying on substances for relief can create a vicious cycle of substance abuse with the ever-increasing difficult life circumstances.
Isolation and Its Link to Addiction
Isolation is stressful, and stress is strongly linked to addiction. Chronic stress causes people to seek relief from sources they would not usually consider. Chronic stress has been linked to many health problems, including blood pressure issues, heart attacks, depression and substance abuse disorders.
When a person uses a substance to alleviate stress, a cycle of abuse often begins. The person in distress reaches for a substance such as alcohol or prescription pills, however the effects of such substances causes even more stress on the body and mind. This begins the cycle of using for relief, then feeling stressed due to the effects of the substance, causing you to use more.
Though stress in general can instigate and perpetuate this cycle, isolation is unique in its ability to drastically increase the level of dysfunction in an individual’s life.
First, being isolated is sad; it’s that simple. Without the love and support of others that we require, we tend to dive into a mixture of depression and anxiety.
Additionally, isolation removes positive influences that come with social situations and interactions. This is especially dangerous when someone abuses substances and isolates. Basically, the individual is stuck in their own negative thoughts and emotions without having anyone around to challenge their destructive behavior or negative downward cycle.
Isolation causes stress that promotes using substances to feel better, then, through the lack of outside influence, perpetuates one’s using. On top of this, isolation may make it difficult to see any help and support that’s available.
How to Better Manage Stress and Feelings of Isolation
Healthy stress management is a fundamental necessity in life. Everyone encounters stress on a daily basis—from traffic to lines at the grocery to personal relationships and bigger issues like politics and terrorism. However, we simply cannot fall apart at every instance of stress, and neither can we hide from the world and remain healthy.
Ways to healthfully cope with stress are numerous and diverse. There’s no “one size fits all” way to handle stress that is best. You have to find what works for you.
Mindfulness activities are one great way to manage stress. Mindfulness aims at keeping you grounded and aware in the moment—not fretting about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.
Physical exercise is critical for stress management and a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies were meant to move; however, most people don’t get nearly the kind of exercise needed to keep major organs healthy. Adding a regular exercise routine to your schedule can drastically improve mood, clarity and stress level.
A healthy diet is equally imperative for stress management and health. Just a few hundred years ago the average diet consisted of nearly no sugar and no processed foods. Sugar was consumed maybe a few times a year and processed foods simply didn’t exist.
Today, however, finding healthy options on a full schedule can be challenging. Give your body the food is was designed to eat—fruits, vegetables, and other natural products.
Time management is one of the best life skills you can have. Learning to manage your time so that you can get done what you need to get done and have time for what you want to do is a skill that will change your life. Managing your time so that stress is taken care of in an efficient manner.
When stress has become too great and you don’t know how to handle it, reach out to the many resources for help and support. Counselors and therapists are a great source of information and guidance.
Depending on the source of your stress you may feel it more necessary to speak with a doctor, your boss or a friend. Whatever the case, do not dwell in stress—it’s consequences are serious, and you deserve to live a happy and healthy life.