The last couple of months I have had conversations with both clients and loved ones which have had me pondering more around the topic of isolation and solitude. Isolation is usually unhealthier in nature whereas solitude is more of self-care and tends to be healthy. Looking at various definitions for isolation, what I saw as a common denominator is it stresses detachment from others, and often is involuntary. An example of involuntary isolation would be what occurred for most of us in 2020. Seclusion is sometimes interchangeable with isolation but will lean more towards a voluntary choice to withdraw from others.

Tulane University differentiates between isolation and loneliness. They write:

“Social isolation is an objective lack of social relationships or infrequency of social contact. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. A person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely. A person can also feel lonely when they are surrounded by people. Nonetheless, isolation and loneliness are very much linked. Studies of loneliness’s causes, symptoms, and impacts shed light on the potential negative effects of social isolation.” (Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health, 12/8/2020).

While it’s understandable to need to spend time alone after a loss such as divorce, death or breakup, and can be a healthy coping mechanism to create space for self-care and healing, long term isolation is unhealthy. Those who isolate tend to lose connection and community with others. Their emotional pain will worsen rather than improve. This emotional distress activates the same stress response in the body as does physical pain. 

Both the Center for Disease Control and National Institute of Health have found that prolonged isolation or seclusion can lead to poor social relationships; higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide; reduced immunity; increased risk of heart disease and stroke; chronic inflammation; about a 50% increased risk of dementia for those over the age of 50; sleep problems and a higher rate of alcohol and tobacco use.

Solitude, or alone time, can be relaxing and rejuvenating. Engaging in healthy alone time activities such as reading, meditating, journaling, gardening, hiking, listening to music or spending time with a hobby improves social relationships; helps regulate mood; increases productivity, creativity and self-awareness and allows for more time and space for self-reflection. 

Alone may look different for extroverts and introverts. Introverts typically need more alone time to refresh. However, it’s just as important for introverts to monitor the effects the alone time is having on their mental health; if your mental health isn’t balanced, that would point towards needing to make steps to connect with others. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of an introvert than I was in my 20s and 30s. Working from home full time also has made it very easy to stay home. Additionally, having a child off to college definitely allows for a lot of built-in alone time. Although I thoroughly enjoy being alone, I know it’s imperative to check in regularly with how I am feeling emotionally, spiritually and physically.

So, how do we know if we’re isolating or having some healthy alone time, and what can we do about it? Here are some ideas that I personally put into practice, and also in various ways suggest them for clients. 

Questions: I ask myself if I am sleeping and eating well? Am I watching too much TV instead of reading, meditating or journaling? How is my overall mood? How am I speaking to myself? Have I been exercising, working in my garden, etc.? 

Intentionality: I’m intentional about having telephone calls with close friends and having regular one-on-one time with friends. Some of them are also colleagues, some are people who provide a safe space with their love and others are people who just can make me laugh when I need it. Each of my closest friends has strength and beauty in them.

For those of you who may have found yourselves secluding yourself because of anxiety, grief, shame, fear, feeling overwhelmed or whatever else it may be, it’s vital you get support. See a therapist or talk with a trusted friend and let them know how they can support you. If no one knows what is going on, it will be necessary for you to reach out to someone and let them know.

To help decrease the need for isolation, opening up a little is a good first step to finding some relief from where you are at – it will help you breathe deeper, and the overwhelming feelings will lighten.  If a trusted one offers love and care as support, let it in. Even if others can’t understand completely, most people are able to be empathetic and kind. Quality time with loved ones can also include activities such as a walk on the beach, hike or coffee date outside; it doesn’t need to be a share all to be helpful and to provide a sense of connection. 

Remember, we are in this life together, so let’s show up for one another and also make sure to let others do so for us.

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.” – Vera Nazarian



Vickie Gonzalez has been licensed for almost 20 years as an LMFT and currently provides counseling, coaching and consulting services. Her private practice is currently online only. She specializes in private practice, including grief loss, addiction/codependency and anxiety disorders. She works with people around themes of identity and purpose as well, primarily with individuals and couples. Coaching services focus on collaborating with clients on setting and reaching their wellness goals, whether those goals are career, relational, financial or personal in nature. On a personal note, she has lived in Carpinteria all her life and became a therapist to give back to the community.

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