Social Isolation and Perception

At the time of writing this article, we’re coming to the end of Covid-19 Lockdown Week #9 which started on the 23rd March 2020 in the UK. Since lockdown began, there has (allegedly) been a marked increase of reports of paranormal activity, which many in the ‘paranormal community’ put down to the increase in time spent in our homes, and the shift from a work-centred focus to that of brains looking for something to do. So in basic terms, because many people who are used to busy workcentric lives are either furloughed or unemployed now, they’re restricted to their homes and they’re simply starting to notice more

Be that as it may (its up to you what you believe), I’d argue one of the major factors in the increased number of reports is simply the effects of social isolation. Not as Hollywood as the above description maybe, but one that has far reaching consequences to any age group in any walk of life.

First of all, yes – absolutely, the lockdown essentially enforces a shift in perception for many. People used to being out at work are now in their houses for what has now been over two months. You will start noticing more about your home surroundings: different creaks and moans as the weather changes for example and the level of background noise is a big factor. My daughter and myself were out walking the dog one evening two weeks ago around Shotley Bridge, and in 45 minutes we saw only one other person out and saw one moving car. Midweek at 9pm. You could stand still, and there wasn’t even the sound of a distant engine. My daughter didn’t like it at all, claiming it was ‘spooky’. We’re all so used to a constant level of background noise in our lives: when its suddenly gone, your brain notices whether consciously or unconsciously. So the quiet solitude changes our perceptions: but its how we interpret these changes that matters. Studies on the risks associated with social isolation have been underway for years, but their relevancy have only now really been appreciated by the masses.The studies have shown that isolation and loneliness can have profound effects on physical and mental health.

Physically, isolation and loneliness can raise stress levels and affect sleep, which Doctor Valtorta’s study (Newcastle University) in 2016 found resulted in a 30% increase in stroke or heart disease. Loneliness and the removal of interaction can result in new habits forming to fill the void, such as smoking, increased alcohol usage, drug usage and ‘comfort eating’ to fill the void, which in turn all have an impact on physical health.Dr. Cole’s study (University of California) in 2015 also looked at the effect of loneliness on our immune systems. The study centred on the study group’s white blood cells (which fight infection) and it was found that a major effect of loneliness is to trigger our natural fight or flight stress response, which long term actually reduces the effectiveness of our immune system: basically, lonely and socially isolated people are physically more susceptible to infection.

One of the greatest impacts of isolation (and perhaps the most obvious) is that on mental health: Isolation/loneliness can increase or trigger anxiety and/or depression. With less or restricted social interaction, the trigger for anxiety/depression increases dramatically. Its no co-incidence that the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy ‘s slogan is “It’s good to talk.” According to the NHS, symptoms of anxiety can include the following (source NHS: Generalised Anxiety Disorder in Adults):

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • muscle aches and tension
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • stomach ache
  • feeling sick
  • headache
  • pins and needles
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia).

Symptoms of depression can include the following (source NHS: Symptoms Clinical Depression):

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem 
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others 
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried 
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • lack of energy
  • disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning 

One of the many ways a person’s mind tries to combat and understand these often alien feelings and concepts is to try and find meaning behind what they’re experiencing. In some cases this leads to an increased openness in the realms of religion and spirituality, with often mundane everyday occurrences being heightened and warped (for want of a better word) into having spiritual meaning. Anxiety and depression can also often override simple logic, and those odd noises in the middle of the night that once were just the pipes settling take on a more sinister turn in a person’s mind once their anxiety kicks in.

I’m going to conclude this rather simplistic view of the effects of isolation by now listing allegedly ‘common signs’ that your house is haunted, touted by many paranormal groups, the media and oddly also endorsed by some organisations you’d think would know better. First read through the list of symptoms of anxiety/depression above (and think of the physical element as well) and then have a look at some of these common elements that apparently tell you your house is haunted or that you’re even possessed (you just have to do a quick Google search for these, they’re everywhere, but I sourced these from BT: 8 spooky signs that your home might be haunted, Ghost Investigation Team and HouseBeautiful: 10 Signs that your house might be haunted):

  • Feeling of being watched when alone. Hearing unexplained whispers, footsteps, thuds or someone calling your name

  • Feeling of being touched by unseen hands

  • Waking up unexpectedly between 3am and 4am;

  • Sensing dread, fear or feeling like you’re being watched

  • Feeling of grief or sadness in specific rooms or areas of the house.

  • Lethargy and feeling of exhaustion

  • Having a negative outlook on life

  • Developing new vices

  • Feeling a heaviness or pressure

  • Sudden behaviourial or personality change

  • Extreme and often dangerous mood fluctuations

  • Frequent nausea or stomach illness

  • Alcohol or Drug dependence

  • Anger or Rage, issues not previously present

  • Sudden onset of irritability, crankiness or snappiness

Recognise any of the above symptoms? Surely, equating symptoms of anxiety and depression to paranormal activity is irresponsible at best and extremely dangerous at worst. 

So yes, undoubtedly this season of isolation during Covid-19 lockdown will produce many more reports of paranormal activity: the Black Dog will see to that.

Remember, its good to talk.