The Effects of Touch Deprivation and Isolation

woman holding hand against glass wall

Human beings are social creatures. You cope with life’s ups and downs best when you have a strong support system to lean on. The covid pandemic has highlighted multiple adverse health effects of isolation and loneliness. 

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), one in five Americans reported feeling isolated or lonely in a recent survey. Researchers have stated that “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Social detachment is also a known risk factor of relapse and backsliding during recovery. You may feel compelled to isolate yourself from others during recovery, but you can do things to make yourself less lonely.  

The Health Effects of Touch Deprivation and Isolation 

Isolation has the side effects of causing touch deprivation in individuals who live alone. “Touch starved” is a term used for people who experience emotional distress from a lack of platonic physical interactions. According to Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, “physical contact has beneficial effects on loneliness.” 

You can also get the same positive health effects from interacting with and touching pets like dogs and cats. A National Institute on Health (NIH) newsletter reported: “studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”

Why People Isolate Themselves During Recovery 

You may feel compelled to isolate yourself for health reasons or struggle with anxiety related to social interactions. Isolation can feel comforting in a way because you do not have to face the judgment or possible misunderstanding you expect when interacting with friends, family members, and acquaintances. Some common reasons to self-isolate after treatment include: 

  • A desire to avoid conflict with friends and family
  • Fear of triggering a relapse
  • Shame, guilt, or regret surrounding past decisions
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • Concerns about being infected with the coronavirus

Many individuals in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) have other health issues or a weakened immune system that might leave them vulnerable to Covid and other illnesses. Self-isolating can feel safer than going out and interacting with the sober community. Fortunately, there are many ways you can avoid loneliness while still protecting your health. 

How to Avoid Isolating Yourself

Every day you can decide to do things that leave you feeling less isolated. Connecting with others is not always pleasant at first, especially if you have legitimate fears about Covid or have encountered stigmas surrounding your recovery. Below are a few ways you can avoid completely isolating yourself from social situations: 

  • Go to the store instead of ordering groceries to your house
  • Volunteer to help others either online or in-person
  • Attend weekly self-help or 12-Step meetings
  • Join local groups or clubs you find exciting and attend their regular meetings

When possible, you can physically attend your medical checkups and therapeutic appointments instead of using telehealth. Many opportunities exist for you to add social interactions into your day-to-day life without increasing your stress levels. 

5 Low-Stress Ways to Increase Social Interaction

According to the Journal of Health and Human Behavior, “social relationships — both quantity and quality — affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk.” Below are five low-stress ways to increase your social interactions. 

  1. Use the internet and video chat apps. You can video chat with a friend or join an online support group meeting anytime you feel lonely. Some recovery groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), have apps where you can connect to others and work on the 12-Steps. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created a list of online recovery resources during the pandemic.
  2. Keep an eye on local events. You can use your local community newsletters or online calendars to see upcoming events that look interesting. Most cities have several recreational activities like concerts or art events planned for each month throughout the year.
  3. Learn a new hobby and take online or in-person classes. Most of the time, you can choose between one-on-one or group classes. Focusing on the activity can make it feel less overwhelming to work beside others.
  4. Join a gym or health class. Physical health is essential for your mental well-being and joining a health class or gym is one way to be around others while still maintaining a safe distance.
  5. Make an effort to spend time with friends and family. You can have dinner several times a month, watch movies together, chat about positive experiences, or participate in other activities.

Reach Out to Your Support System 

When you feel the urge to self-isolate, you can take preventative measures before it causes mental health issues. Your support system is an excellent resource and can help you stay safe and healthy during your ongoing recovery. Reach out to people you trust and spend quality time with them until you feel more comfortable interacting with others in social situations.  

Social isolation causes feelings of loneliness and increases your risk of relapse. Avoiding others can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders. You can prevent isolation by taking part in low-stress social activities online or in person. You are responsible for making healthy decisions during ongoing recovery, and one way you can ensure your physical and mental well-being is by choosing to spend time with others. At first, you might feel uncomfortable if friends or family are aware of your struggles with substance misuse, but you can turn that discomfort into motivation to get better. Exposure therapy is an excellent way to overcome social anxiety during recovery. At White House Recovery and Detox, we teach skill development, including social skills training, to help you maintain emotional stability during stressful situations. Learn more about our facility and the services we have to offer by calling us today at (800) 510-5393.