Loneliness and Depression
Depression has many symptoms and side effects, social isolation being one of them. Social isolation is a state of complete (or near complete) lack of physical contact between an individual and other people and/or society. Social isolation leads to loneliness, which means that many who experience depression also feel lonely. Those who experience loneliness as part of their depression must also, unfortunately cope with a whole other set of symptoms.
Feelings of guilt, low self-worth, anxiety, and hopelessness are all symptoms of loneliness. Loneliness can also make people more likely to “give in” to certain addictive behaviors (i.e. – drinking, shopping, binge-watching Netflix, etc.).
Yet loneliness does not only affect one’s mental and/or emotional well-being, but also their physical well-being. Some of the possible physical side effects of loneliness include:
- Brain fog
- Muscle tension
- Weakened immune system
- Decreased libido
- Digestive problems
- Changes in sleep and appetite
Experiencing any (or all) of these physical symptoms can lead to increased depressive symptoms. And, sadly, increased depressive symptoms can contribute to more social isolation and loneliness, which can eventually create a vicious cycle.
Coping with Loneliness and Depression
There is no quick fix to loneliness. But If you are experiencing social isolation and depression, there are certain lifestyle changes that you can make that could help pull you out of the vicious loneliness and depression cycle, and help you minimize your feelings of loneliness.
- Volunteer – identify a cause you believe in (or just “pick one” if you are not sure). Volunteering can provide an opportunity to meet other people, be part of a group, and create new experiences for you.
- Join a group or a class – look up art/exercise/community college/etc. classes where you live. Although this may feel intimidating, joining a group or a class will immediately expose you to other people. Being part of a group/class can also, over time, provide a sense of belonging.
- Adopt a pet – pets are beneficial in so many ways. Although having a pet may create more responsibility for you, it can also provide companionship, connection, and unconditional love.
- Get outdoors – getting outdoors means you will likely be around other people (even if you are not interacting with them), which can help you not feel so isolated. Also, sunlight helps increase serotonin, which helps improve mood and relieve feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Notice the positives of being alone – while there is a difference between being alone and being lonely, it can be helpful to identify the positives of being alone (even if you are also feeling lonely). Practice gratitude, which can help shift your focus from the things you don’t like (i.e. – feeling lonely) to the things that are beneficial (i.e. – getting to watch anything you want on TV). This may seem trivial, but practicing gratitude, even in areas of life we are unhappy, can help us manage our difficult emotions.
To find out more about coping with loneliness and depression, or to learn about the services offered at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, contact us at 518-218-1188.