The Cycle Of Depression And Loneliness
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
How do most people cope with depression?
People manage depression based on what makes them feel better, either in the moment or with the idea that things will get better. In-the-moment management might look like self-care days curled up in bed, binging a favorite series, or doing anything that makes someone feel comforted when they're working through a depressive episode.
Other forms of management might be therapy, medication, exercise, going outside, or mindfulness practices that help people stay present and in the moment. Some people may not have beneficial outlets for their depression, and they may struggle with eating disorders, alcohol abuse, self-harm, or drug use.
Are lonely people more likely to be depressed?
Depression is a common overlap for people who feel lonely. Loneliness is often considered a type of depression. Feeling lonely and experiencing depression may include low self-esteem, difficulty building or maintaining social relationships, problem-solving skills, and physical illness in some circumstances.
The difference between loneliness and depression is that while feeling lonely may cause a depressive episode, once someone can engage in social interactions and be more connected to others, their depression often abates. Depression is a mental health condition that follows an individual throughout their life.
How much does loneliness affect mental health?
Depending on the severity of loneliness, there may be a significant risk to an individual's mental health and well-being. Prolonged or severe loneliness may lead to mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and Alzheimer's disease.
How does loneliness affect people's behavior?
Loneliness can have serious effects on the human brain. People may crave connection or a relationship with others like a hungry person craves food. Prolonged loneliness may also affect someone's personality, such as increased hostility, pessimism, hypervigilance, and distrust of others.
How does loneliness affect quality of life?
Experiencing loneliness can lead to feelings of emptiness, sadness, helplessness, and pessimism. People may feel dissatisfied with life, lack motivation, or lose their enjoyment of hobbies or activities. Loneliness can also raise stress levels, affect sleeping habits, or incite insomnia. All these symptoms and more can reduce a person's quality of life, health, and mental well-being.
How does loneliness affect social interaction?
For some, loneliness creates a loop where their lack of connection or relationships causes social withdrawal, feelings of rejection, or depressive episodes. In turn, when they do have an opportunity for connection, they may experience social anxiety, distrust, or other challenges in developing new relationships, which can lead them to experience worse feelings of loneliness.
How does loneliness affect motivation?
Like depression, loneliness can affect a person's motivation in several areas of life. Some people may lack motivation to engage in hobbies or activities they usually enjoy, sometimes because they wish they could enjoy it with others. It may become difficult to focus or concentrate, impacting work performance, chores or obligations, or self-care routines.
People may experience lower energy levels, which can leave them feeling too tired to get other things done, from exercising to keeping their place clean to eating. A lack of motivation may make it difficult to care about things, therefore allowing responsibilities to be ignored and making it more challenging to get things back on track.
How do you deal with loneliness and isolation?
Periods of loneliness and isolation can be challenging to navigate or manage. Whether you've been experiencing loneliness for a long time or it is more recent or situation-specific, there are plenty of options that may help you reduce loneliness.
Engaging in social activities with others can help you meet new people who enjoy the things you do, such as gaming, sports, or enjoying nature.
If you feel anxious about jumping into a new group with whom you are not familiar, you may join a support group for people who experience loneliness where everyone can impart their struggles without any judgment or expectations.
Remember to care for your physical health. Spending time exercising, going outside, getting the right amount of sleep, and eating healthy can give you plenty of footholds to manage your symptoms and give you the energy and confidence to try making new connections with people.
Seek out a mental health professional. There are several mental health resources, such as BetterHelp, that can connect you with a licensed therapist, regardless of your health insurance. They can provide you with tools and resources that may help you overcome your loneliness and learn how to develop relationships with others. And, of course, having a therapist with whom to talk can do wonders for feeling lonely and isolated.
Why is loneliness an important problem to solve?
Some surveys in America alone have shown that 60% of people feel lonely regularly. That's across the ages of 18-65+. With so many people who experience loneliness combined with the adverse health effects we've discussed, it's a big concern for many in both the mental health and medical fields.
How do you help someone who is lonely?
If you know someone who's feeling lonely, you can support them by taking an interest in their hobbies or encouraging them to engage in social activities. You may be able to help them find a mental health professional if they're experiencing a depressive episode and could use the help of a therapist to work through their loneliness. One of the most meaningful things you can do for someone who feels lonely, though, is just to be there, listen, and offer comfort.
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