Interview With a Therapist (Lauren Ray)
Do you have questions about isolation and social distance? Each week in October, we are sitting down with one of our amazing Mindsight therapists to get answers to all of our burning questions! This week, Emily sat down with Lauren Ray, a therapist in our Louisville office, to talk about how isolation is affecting our mental health and how therapy can help!
So Lauren, is isolation really bad for my mental health?
So in short, yes, it is. And right now with COVID, along with the recent increased polarization of the world, it's actually causing us to feel more lonely and isolated than ever before.
One of my favorite authors and researchers and virtual mentors, as I call her, Brene Brown, she's done extensive research on loneliness and isolation and its effects. And I'm just gonna share some of her work with you because it's so good. She did a meta-analysis of studies on loneliness, which basically means a study on many different studies on loneliness, and researchers found the following in this study, living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5%. Living with obesity increases those odds 20%, excessive drinking 30%, and living with loneliness and isolation increases our odds of dying early by 45%.
So loneliness, all it is really is the absence of meaningful social connection. And Brene says it like this. She says, “As members of a social species, we don't derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather our collective ability to plan, communicate and work together. Our neurohormonal and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence.” So when we feel lonely and isolated, our brains try to protect us, and it switches into self-protection mode. And in that mode, we have less empathy, we have more defensiveness, more numbing out, and less sleeping, or sometimes oversleeping. And I think that that is a lot of what we're seeing right now. So the brain's self-protection mode often ramps up the stories that we tell ourselves about what's happening. And it creates stories that are often really exaggerated or not true at all. And that unchecked loneliness, fuels continued isolation, keeping us afraid to reach out. So ultimately, I think a lot of these factors combined, tells us that when we're more lonely and more isolated, there's a huge chance that mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety are going to increase for us. And I think we're seeing a big increase in that right now.
So is that something that therapy can help with?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I think one big way that therapy can help is because a lot of the reasons that people are so lonely and isolated right now, and just in general, why people isolate themselves has to do with fear. So it could be a fear of vulnerability, fear of getting hurt, fear of criticism and failure, fear of conflict, fear of not being good enough. And therapy can really help you to work through all of those things. For one, it will get you talking to at least one person, which right now with COVID can be hard to make that happen. And even just in general, you and your therapist can walk through those obstacles to connection. Those deeper rooted issues that may keep you from meaningful connection, your therapist can help you come up with strategies to put yourself out there more, just to get out more and also work through those deeper rooted issues so that you can isolate yourself less.
Lauren, can you share with us some strategies to foster more intimacy and connection?
Yeah, definitely. I think before I do that, I'll also just say that human beings in general, we all need a feeling of belonging, there's a really deep value to our mental health and overall well being just to be a part of something. So I think it's important and this can be one of the strategies. I think it's important to find your something, and your therapist can help you with that. And oftentimes, when you find your something, you can find your people and in turn feel way less isolated.
So numerous research studies confirm that it's not the quantity of friends that you have, but it's the quality of friends. So don't worry as much about needing a ton of friends being connected to a ton of different people. I would say focus more on a few quality friends in your life, your mental health symptoms are going to decrease significantly by feeling like you belong, which is the few solid quality friends in your life.
And I think with COVID, it can be much more difficult to foster that intimacy and connection right now. But I do think that there are still chances to be a part of something really meaningful. That gives you that sense of purpose and helps you to feel less isolated. For example, you could reach out to a few friends and plan a socially distanced hang out, you could go have coffee outside somewhere and sit in an open-air patio, strike up a conversation with the barista or someone sitting close to you. Right now, a lot of businesses, gyms, churches, libraries, stores, all that kind of stuff. They have precautions right now that allow you to be safe and socially distanced while you're in their facility. So go check out some of those places. And just be safe and as careful as you can while you're there. And you can also volunteer with an organization that feels meaningful to you. Those are all really great ways to meet people and make connections.
And also if you don't feel comfortable with any of that, which is completely understandable, nowadays, there are also a lot of online groups that you can join, to meet like-minded people with like-minded interests and hobbies, and you can feel really connected through that too.
Lauren Ray, LPCA
Read Lauren's professional bio here!
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