The Cycle Of Depression And Loneliness

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression and loneliness are often connected, and each one may contribute to the development of the other. If it seems like you’re stuck in the middle of a vicious cycle of depression and loneliness, please know that it can be possible to heal and improve your mental health. It can be helpful to make connections with friends and family members, adjust your lifestyle, get a pet, and seek professional help through in-person or online therapy.

Understanding your feelings

A young girl wearing glasses is sitting on a windowsill and using a laptop; she has a serious expression.
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Negative emotions can seem overwhelming

One study found that loneliness can function as both a symptom and a predictor of depression. This suggests that addressing loneliness as soon as possible after it has developed could be helpful in mitigating the onset of depressive symptoms. Although loneliness is not typically a formal psychological diagnosis, many people experiencing loneliness can benefit from therapy. 

Through therapy, you can learn how to forge stronger connections with others, how to communicate more effectively, and how to see yourself in a more positive light. Some people may find themselves withdrawing from the company of other people in response to a perceived flaw when they’re in a cycle of depression and loneliness.

Depression and loneliness are often intertwined. Which precedes the other is not entirely certain, but the presence of one could signal the onset of the other. This may be because loneliness can trigger feelings of depression, which can create feelings of isolation and alienation. These are all feelings that can, in turn, lead to loneliness. As the depressive disorder worsens, feelings of loneliness may increase. And as loneliness increases, depressive symptoms may increase. Although this loop of loneliness and depression can feel impossible to step out of, treating one concern may help with the other.

What is depression?

Depression is usually characterized by feelings of despair, overwhelm, apathy, and sadness. These feelings can be accompanied by changes in weight (loss or gain), disrupted sleep, and increased irritability, anger, and confusion. These symptoms can come on simultaneously or may develop separately, potentially leading some people to develop a sense of normalcy after each new symptom has arrived. Over time, these symptoms can make day-to-day functioning almost impossible, typically resulting in the need for treatment.

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Breaking the cycle

Depression and loneliness can both be isolating. Isolation is usually more problematic than helpful and can perpetuate the ongoing cycle of depression and loneliness. Perhaps the easiest way to break the cycle can be to catch it before it starts. You can put processes into your daily life that may prevent you from repeatedly circling through depression and loneliness. 

Even if you find yourself stuck in the middle of it, you can still break the cycle of depression and loneliness. Here are some suggestions on how to put a stop to this harmful cycle in your life.

Make connections

Being "friends" on social media may not be the same as having a meaningful friendship with a person. After all, it might not be feasible to be close friends with 100 different people. Instead of focusing on growing your social media following, you may want to consider working on forming some good connections in real life.

When you have real friends with whom you can be your authentic self, you may have a support system you can reach out to when you are feeling depressed and lonely. It can be vital to work on these types of connections when you are having good days because they will likely help you through the bad days.

Adjust your lifestyle

Lifestyle interventions can also be helpful in treating people with depression and loneliness. Improving your diet, exercising regularly, and engaging in mindfulness practices can improve your mental and physical health, which can positively impact depression symptoms. These interventions don’t necessarily need to be severe or dramatic. They can include changes as small as limiting your caffeine intake and exercising 20 minutes a day a few days each week.

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Negative emotions can seem overwhelming

Get a pet

Therapy animals tend to be more common now than ever before, and they can be useful in treating the symptoms of various mental health disorders. Having a pet to care for, hold onto, and come home to can make the isolation that often accompanies these conditions less severe. A pet can also give you a renewed sense of purpose.

Seek help

One of the most effective treatments for depression and loneliness can be talk therapy. For some, the presence of a therapist and the safe space provided by a physical office can be a no-brainer. Others, especially those who are severely depressed, may have certain symptoms that make leaving the house difficult. These could include fatigue or social withdrawal, for example. For these people, online therapy from home might be a better option. 

Benefits of online therapy

Online therapy may seem more convenient than in-person therapy when you’re experiencing depression and loneliness. This type of therapy can typically be available from anywhere you have an internet connection. Plus, scheduling is usually more convenient since appointment slots are often available outside of typical office hours. 

Effectiveness of online therapy 

Online therapy has generally been found effective in treating symptoms of depression, including those brought on by loneliness. A 2019 study investigating the efficacy of online therapy for treating depression noted that “depression symptom severity was significantly reduced after the use of the multimodal digital psychotherapy intervention.” Online therapy may be the tool you need to pull yourself out of the cycle of depression and loneliness.

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar concerns.

Therapist reviews

"Patricia is excellent, very knowledgeable, empathetic, and helpful. Her professionalism helped make my journey less lonely, and gave me so much more clarity."

"Her balance between empathy and perseverance have kept me focused on my goals without burning out. She has stayed with me as I go through life and overcame obstacles. As I maneuver through difficulties, Krista has made the experience a little bit easier, less lonely, and something of a challenge to overcome rather than a reason to be stagnant… Krista really understands my values and aspirations. She encourages me to pursue my passion and chase my dream no matter the many, long-lasting, face-scrunching hiccups along the way."

Takeaway

Although depression and loneliness may both have the potential to make people feel isolated, nervous, and unsure of their place in the world, both of these concerns can be treatable. You may find it helpful to make lifestyle changes, adopt a pet, and forge connections with friends and family members. Online or in-person therapy can also be an excellent way to break the cycle of depression and loneliness.

You're not alone with your loneliness

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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