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How Isolation Can Help and Harm Your Mental Health

It’s always been this way. Alone, all alone.

I often employ (in cold clinical language) a negative behavioral coping skill which is termed “isolation.”

Have you ever felt terrible and needed to be alone — to just be left alone? That’s basically what I’m talking about here. That’s isolation.

Now, hear this. Isolation is misunderstood. People, when they hear the word “isolation,” think immediately something is wrong. Alarm Bells! There’s a problem.

Why?

While chronic isolation is a warning sign, let me reframe this to fit reality. There are times when isolation is useful — times when you can experience isolation’s embrace.

Isolation embraces and comforts you. It can hide you and put a wall between you and a difficult, indifferent world. It can make it stop. You shut off and shut down. There’s a soft sigh from deep down in the well. Engage in healthy neglect of people and life. I bet you thought you’d never hear that.

So, here’s where I tell you there are good and legitimate reasons to isolate. I say, to isolate for a while is healthy.

Why?

To not swamp an overwhelmed person. To “recharge” yourself.

Lie down on your bed, alone. Forget the stupid phone. Put on an album that leads you into a state of temporary forgetfulness. In fact, try Boards Of Canada.

Take time to stare at the ceiling. Stare blankly at nothing. Feel your pillows on your face. Nestle down in your cave and hide out like in a tree fort no one can enter. Hide. Do nothing. Just exist.

When you’re ready to re-engage, you hope you have enough to continue on.

After hours of socializing, I need to get away. It’s out of necessity this need to isolate from people because, quite literally, my tolerance, or as I term it, “battery,” has been drained.

Give me an hour or two on a good day and I’m revitalized.

Isolate when you can’t deal, but remember, “It’s only for a time.” With chronic isolation, you don’t get better. Your problems stay problems. It’s a slippery slope. So don’t forget that.

Why say that? I have used isolation so much I didn’t realize how much or when I was doing it. When I did, I was amazed. You can be in a room full of people and be isolating. You can crack a few odd jokes and not be there. You can go all day at work observing people chum it up. Being around them is not enough. Around people, you are still isolating.

Do I wish to be someone who is capable of opening up more? Sure, it might make things easier. I know I’ve come a long way. I know most people can’t survive mental illness alone.

I just want to point out how isolation can help you, and so the next time you think about “isolation,” you will think twice about its benefits and its danger. Come to a conclusion about how it can be healthy. If I were a more open and vulnerable person, then it would be easier. I might feel more OK with support from others, but as I am, I use isolation and I am aware of both the benefits and dangers of it.

Image via contributor.