How to Beat the Social-Isolation Blues

Are you discouraged? Depressed? Fearful? Confused? Unmotivated?

Then I’ve got a cure for you.

It’s guaranteed. It costs nothing. And it will pay dividends for the rest of your life.

You need to know three things. The first two are scientific facts. The third is outside the scope of science, so science has nothing to say about it.

First: Your body affects your emotions

Humans evolved not as solitary individuals, but in groups. As a result, we are biologically adapted for that environment. We need to interact with other people. If we can’t, then it affects us physically: we feel lethargic or depressed.

But there’s good news: The parts of our brains that get depressed by loneliness are the old parts. They evolved in our prehistoric ancestors countless ages ago, when photos and video didn’t exist.

In prehistoric times, if we saw someone in front of us, it could only be an actual person. As a result, the primitive parts of our brains can’t distinguish very well between realistic video and real people. Even if we know intellectually that it’s video, our brains react the same as if the people were there with us. That means we can use apps like FaceTime and Zoom for video chats to “fool” our brains. It’s not quite as good as the real thing, because it’s not 3-D and it lacks a few sensory cues that operate below our conscious awareness. But it helps reduce the impact of social isolation.

Another way to fool our brains is for us to act like we feel happy and energetic. From past experience, we associate those feelings with actions like smiling, standing up straight, and walking briskly. As a result, simply doing the actions can create some of the feelings that go with them. The neuroscience is a little more complicated, but the basic point is that it works. Scientists found that:

“a happy facial expression led to the subjects’ experiencing ‘happiness,’ an angry facial expression to their experiencing ‘anger,’ and so on.” (Anthony Damasio, Descartes’ Error, p. 148)

And don’t forget the great outdoors. Our ancestors lived in natural surroundings: sky, trees, fresh air, and ground under their feet. If you can, get out of the house and take a walk. Enjoy the beauty around you. Your body will enjoy it too. And you’ll feel better.

Second: You are unique

No one else on earth has exactly your combination of abilities, skills, and knowledge. No one else on earth has your life experiences. As a result, no one else on earth can do what you can do exactly as you do it.

You have a unique contribution to make to the world. Nobody else can substitute for you. Without you in the world, your contribution is lost. Whether you’re famous or unknown, whether your contribution is great or humble, you are irreplaceable.

Whether or not you realize it, your life matters. You are one of the most important people on earth.

Third: You’re on a mission from God

This is the speculative part of the remedy. It might be true, or it might not. Logic and evidence can’t tell us.

So I’ll tell you: You are here on earth for a reason. If you’re still here, then the reason still applies.

Can I prove it? No.

Can anyone disprove it? No.

Is it a helpful belief that might be true? Yes.

You’re here in this life to do the things that only you can do. You’re here to love, help, and connect with people. You’re here to make a difference.

Whether you believe you were put here by God, fate, karma, or the natural order, you’re still here. Make yourself useful. And that, too, will make you happier.

Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
This entry was posted in Life, Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How to Beat the Social-Isolation Blues

  1. J P says:

    Excellent advice!


    • N.S. Palmer says:

      Thanks! I am just about to follow my own advice and get a walk in the sunshine. The UV index is eight, but it’s probably better for me than it is for any nasty bugs out there. 🙂 As for the advice, my ex was feeling a little depressed and that was basically my advice to her.


  2. My Indian ancestors lived outdoors which is why I love to be outdoors whether in the woods or at the ocean. I love changing a day, an hour, even a minute of a person’s life doing something kind for them. I love being alone or with one person, a few persons, or a crowd. It’s ironic how before coronavirus, (BC) I longed to get out, to travel, to experience new adventures, meet new people, see new things almost to the point of a deep depression covered up with jokes and a happy face to after being ordered to stay in those feelings faded away turning into empathy. Nice post:)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.