On the Road for a Mapping Company Half a Year at a Time: Chronic Feelings of Isolation

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Reader’s Question

I am a researcher for a mapping company. Because of my job, for about six months straight I am on the road and far away from home. During those months, I never see anyone I know. It’s rare that I’m in one city for more than a week, which isn’t really enough time to learn my way around. “You look lost” is the way a lot of my grocery store conversations start. It’s hard enough just to learn where things are, let alone build relationships of any significance. Of course, I still talk on the phone or write to friends and family.

Are there any known, lasting negative effects to this kind of isolation? I’m certainly not lacking for human interaction, but it’s still painful to know that for months at a time I’m an outsider in every situation and conversation that I enter. I mean, even deployed military (such as several in my family) or astronauts who are away from home for months still have people on their ship whom they can befriend. Sometimes I feel as if there’s nobody there for me.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are indeed some known effects of isolation, which, as you partly point out, can take many different forms. Human beings need stimulation and contact of various types. When we are deprived of sensory input, for example, we can experience some very unusual psychological symptoms. But sensory stimulation alone is not enough. We are inherently social creatures who need social contact. And when we experience various types of social isolation, it can have a significant impact on our emotional well-being. Feelings of social isolation have been linked to a variety of conditions including anxiety, mood disturbance, substance abuse, addictions, and even physical health problems.

In addition to casual social interaction, most of us need intimate contact and a sense of “belonging.” And technology has made it possible to get a sense of belongingness by being part of an online group or chat room in which bonds can be forged and a sense of community developed. So, these opportunities might prove of some value to you. But if you are one of those persons whose needs go beyond that and you still feel the effects of being disconnected, you might have to consider a different type of work or at least a change in your present work structure in order to maintain your emotional balance.

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