Everyone needs human connection, just as we need a good diet and an exercise routine to stay healthy. Human connection means more than just having a colleague or an acquaintance. It is a deep bond that is formed between people when they feel seen and valued. Human connection builds trust and an overall feeling of belonging and intimacy. According to American psychologist Abraham Moslow’s hierarchy of needs, “belonging and love” are the most important needs we must fulfill, after food, water and safety. A Harvard study found that the number one thing that makes us happy is not career achievement, exercise and/or a healthy diet. Good relationships are what keep us healthier and happier. Having a sense of belonging has multiple positive health benefits: it can boost self-esteem, increase longevity, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and enhance empathy and compassion.
It’s no doubt that the current state of the world has many people feeling isolated and lonely, and judges are already working in an anxiety-filled setting. Judges deal with high expectations, they have multiple deadlines, and they deal with people problems, such as divorce, child abuse, crime, etc.
In 2019, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) released the 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey, which identifies the primary sources of judicial stress. Of the 1,034 judges who were surveyed, 50.3 percent said that isolation leads to their stress. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.
To prevent these feelings, judges must understand loneliness and isolation. They should also know that it’s ok to feel like you are not ok. These feelings are valid. We are living in an unknown environment, and it is normal to have these thoughts. If these feelings start to interfere with your life—e.g., you start sleeping too much, you cannot get your work done, you are irritable with your family and co-workers—then it is probably time to ask for help.
Difference between loneliness and social isolation
Loneliness and social isolation are similar, but they are not the same. When people are lonely, they feel empty, alone and unwanted. It is a state of mind. They crave human contact, but loneliness makes it difficult for them to connect with others. Loneliness does not have a single cause, and it differs in every person who experiences it. It does not mean that they are in fact alone, it is a feeling of being alone. For example, a judge might feel lonely even though he is constantly around peers and colleagues. A soldier might feel lonely when deployed to a foreign country, even though he is surrounded by other soldiers. They feel lonely even though they crave social connections. They feel as if they have been separated, rejected or abandoned by other people.
Loneliness has many negative physical and mental effects, including:
Drug and/or alcohol misuse
Suicide (If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.)
Poor decision-making skills
A 2019 study found that lonely adults get less exercise than those who are not lonely, and that they have a higher-fat diet, less efficient sleep, and more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also predisposes lonely people to premature aging.[i]
Social isolation occurs when people have little to no social support or other people to interact with regularly. Many factors can cause social isolation, such as depression, a chronic illness, long-term disability, living alone, being a victim of violence or abuse, or life changes such as divorce, job loss or the death of a loved one.
Social isolation also has many increased health risks. One study found that older adults who have social isolation have an increased risk of getting dementia, heart disease and stroke.[ii]
A person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely. A person can also feel lonely when they are surrounded by people.
Ways to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation
If you are feeling lonely or isolated, try to act on some of the following suggestions.
Connect with others
With technology, you have so many ways to talk to friends and family. Call a friend or a relative. Use apps such as FaceTime and Zoom to create a virtual family get-together. Note that connecting with others does not just mean with your family or colleagues. Try connecting with others through groups that have the same interests as you. For example, if you are interested in or have a passion for a certain topic like golf or ancient history, find a similar group to share your thoughts with.
Take stock of which relationships mean the most to you and which ones might need work. Maybe there is a person in your life that is toxic or a person you love who is difficult. Take stock of your relationships annually and determine how you can improve them, then see how things have or have not improved in a year.
Have at least one solid relationship. This is the person you would call in the middle of the night if you really needed someone to talk to because you are scared, worried or cannot sleep. Think about a time you spoke to a friend or loved one about something that was bothering you. You probably felt some relief, just by talking about it. If you have at least one good relationship, it can lower your blood pressure, reduce anxiety and stress, and give you a better sense of purpose.
Limit your screen time
It’s no surprise that most of the news during this time is not good news. Our news and social feeds are filled with stories about crime, racism and uncertainty about the future. When you surround yourself with bad news, it is bound to have a negative effect on you. Search for positive stories in the news, instead of just scrolling through the news of the day. Limit your time on social media and news sites and spend your time doing more productive things.
As a legal professional, you are used to structure, so it is important to create the same type of environment at home. Try to set a schedule and stick to it. Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. This will help keep you from veering off in the wrong direction, such as wondering what you will do each day or how you will finish your work each day.
Exercise can instantly boost your mood, and there are plenty of ways to exercise. Many online sites have free workouts you can easily do at home. You can take a walk around your neighborhood or in a local park. You can even be active while working on your house, whether it’s through cleaning or mowing your lawn.
Try not to get into the habit of binge-watching TV or spending hours without moving. Remember that a body in motion stays in motion!
Make time for creative time. You need a break from the day-to-day routine. Perhaps you might work on your home: paint the garage, clean the basement, build a tree house in the backyard, re-decorate the bedroom, etc. It doesn’t have to be a home improvement project. You could try drawing, writing poetry, learning photography, crocheting or restoring an antique car or motorcycle. Being creative gives you a sense of purpose and can lead to feelings of accomplishment and pride.
OLAP can help
If you feel like isolation and loneliness are hindering your life, please call the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. We can help you get back on the right track.
If you are a judge or a magistrate and you are struggling, or if you know a co-worker who is having problems with mental health and/or substance use, contact the Judicial Advisory Group, a peer-based confidential assistance group that helps judges and magistrates with personal and professional issues. For more information, go to www.ohiolap.org/judges or call (800) 348-4343.
[i]Schrempft S, Jackowska M, Hamer M, Steptoe A. Associations between social isolation, loneliness, and objective physical activity in older men and women. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):74. doi:10.1186/s12889-019-6424-y
[ii] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. The National Academies Press; 2020.