Sad and lonely woman struggling with PTSD

If you survived a deadly trauma, you might experience powerful flashbacks, avoidance, eating and sleeping problems, and a strong desire to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, even years later. Symptoms like these may indicate PTSD and another condition known as isolation (or social isolation). But they are treatable.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

“Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better.” Worsening, long-term symptoms which interfere with daily life may result in a PTSD diagnosis.

What is Social Isolation?

Social isolation isn’t necessarily bad. We all crave solitude at some point. “Alone time” can be peaceful, thoughtful, and revitalizing. It’s something that normally refers to unwanted solitude that is unhealthy. If you’re socially isolated, you may not have friends or close colleagues and regularly feel lonesome or depressed. You can experience low self-esteem or anxiety. Social isolation may also involve emotional isolation, which is a reluctance or inability to share your feelings with another.

Symptoms of Social Isolation

  • Avoiding social exchanges, including something you used to enjoy.
  • Canceling plans repeatedly and being relieved when they’re canceled.
  • Experiencing panic or anxiety when contemplating social interactions.
  • Feeling pain during times of solitude.
  • Feeling dread related to social activities.
  • Having large amounts of time to yourself or with very limited contact with someone else. 

When you’re socially isolated, you may lack emotional communication and support, as a result becoming emotionally numb — detached from your own feelings.

Related Conditions

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the National Institute on Aging, someone who’s socially isolated or lonely is more prone to admittance to an emergency room or to a nursing facility. Social isolation and loneliness may be linked to greater risks for:

  •     High blood pressure
  •     Heart disease
  •     Obesity
  •     Poor immunity functions
  •     Anxiety
  •     Depression
  •     Slowed cognitive abilities
  •     Dementia, including Alzheimer’s 
  •     Death

Symptoms of some of these may be managed with ketamine.

PTSD and Isolation

Isolation is sometimes described as having two stages:

  • “Early Stages: The individual will begin to slowly start cutting himself or herself off from society. These symptoms can be shown by a lack of wanting to go out to social places that they used to find enjoyable. The individual may not show any interest in meeting new people or feels uncomfortable or alert if placed in a situation with a large crowd of unknown people. They might begin eating meals alone or may become workaholics, throwing themselves into materialistic things rather than people.”
  • Later Stages: Normally, at this point, the person is almost crippled by other symptoms and could be given a misdiagnosis of depression. During this stage, someone experiencing isolation has voluntarily cut himself or herself off from the world, including breaking ties with friends and family. The person’s life will then be preoccupied with materialistic things.

Tips for living with social isolation

The most important way to combat isolation because of PTSD is to stay connected, to force yourself to become reacquainted with loved ones. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Find an enjoyable activity, kickstart an old hobby, and share those interests with someone else.
  • Schedule daily time to communicate with family, friends, or neighbors face-to-face, by email, social, telephone calls, or text messaging.
  • Try communication technologies like Zoom, Google Meet, smart speakers, or consider a companion pet to help keep you engaged.
  • Sign up for a virtual or in-person course at your local community center or public library.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing PTSD, social isolation, or another mental health condition normally has three components:

  • A physical examination has the goal of discovering an underlying medical problem resulting in your PTSD symptoms. Your doctor may recommend blood tests, x-rays, or other diagnostic procedures and imaging tests.
  • A psychiatric evaluation. Your mental health provider will ask about your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors as triggers for your symptoms and whether you or your blood relatives have a history of mental illness.
  • Comparing your PTSD symptoms to criteria in the DSM-5.

Treatment could include psychotherapy, self-help, diet or exercise, antidepressants or other medicine, or ketamine therapy.

Final Thoughts

If you suffer from PTSD, you know that it’s often paired with social isolation – an intense need to cut yourself off from loved ones as a self-defense mechanism. Needing alone time isn’t necessarily bad, but when the desire becomes all-consuming, you may need professional help. Contact us today to learn more.

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