Why Are People So Fed Up With Social Isolation?

Taking control of our well-being amid isolation fatigue.

Posted Jun 26, 2020

Today's guest blogger is Maggie Kimberl.

The human mind is a wondrous thing, but sometimes it can display some bizarre behaviors. This has become apparent throughout the pandemic, as people have vacillated between stockpiling toilet paper and freezers and debating one another on the merits of face masks and social distancing. There are human lives at stake and it’s clear the danger is real, but the human mind has a way of adjusting to a constant state of fear and anxiety that makes us behave in ways that are not always rational. Despite the fact we are in more danger than ever as more people around us have COVID-19, we feel like we are in less danger than when the pandemic began simply because our brains have become fatigued with our worried states. Rationally we should know that the danger is still there and that it is definitely serious, but our minds can only sustain heightened anxiety for so long.

How Our Psychology And Physiology Are Working Against Us

In the early days of the pandemic, two out of three Americans said they were feeling depressed, lonely, anxious, or hopeless at least some of the time. These feelings are a real and appropriate response to the most serious global pandemic humankind has seen in a hundred years. They cause us to behave in some irrational ways, and this explains the spike in purchases for things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but it also explains the spike in purchases for things like alcohol and baking yeast. When people feel out of control of a situation, their preparedness to endure it is one small thing they have control over.

Basically what’s happening there is that our reptilian brains are overtaking our mammalian brains and overriding our ability to think logically. We don’t really need a freezer full of meat, but when we see it the urge to buy whatever we can store becomes overwhelming. Get while the getting is good.

By the end of April, three in four American adults expected a second wave of the pandemic by the fall. Unfortunately, compliance fatigue is growing stronger by the day.

Right now we are all facing information overload, and not all of the information making it through is good, accurate, or relevant. Our ability to process information hinges on a lot of factors, including how much information there is to process in the first place. After a while, some of the information stops making it through the noise. 

At odds is also our lack of ability to perceive exponential threats. Humans mostly understand linear threats, which have a constant rate of growth. Viruses spread exponentially, and without the ability to perceive that the threat to our health also grows exponentially it’s easy to decide you’ve played it safe long enough.

Unfortunately, this is where the novel coronavirus has the advantage. Not only are there more people sick and able to spread the virus now than there were at the beginning of stay at home orders, there are exponentially more, meaning our risk factor is exponentially greater.

These threats are taking a toll on everyone. Business owners are desperate to see their businesses recover, while many furloughed workers are eager to get back to work. Not being able to comprehend the severity of the threat makes the situation that much more stressful for everyone.

Take Control of Your Personal Well-Being

If you are feeling the negative effects of social isolation, it’s time to make some changes in your daily routine. Limit social media and video chat use as much as possible—you may think they are helping but they are actually doing the opposite. Try some new hobbies in your spare time like baking, yoga, and gardening. Make time to exercise every day and take up meditation to help calm your nerves.

If you find yourself too far beyond overwhelmed to cope, there are resources available. In addition to telemedicine mental health appointments, which are approved temporarily by most insurance plans, you can also reach out to the Disaster Distress Helpline:

  • Call 1-800-985-5990
  • Text “TalkWithUs”

Remember this pandemic likely won’t go on forever. Look after your mental and physical well-being first. Learn more about the psychology of isolation fatigue.

Maggie Kimberl is with NowSourcing, Inc. (@LouGirl502).