How to Beat Feeling Lonely or Depressed
It is important to understand how loneliness is a very different thing to feeling alone. Anyone can feel alone in different situations such as those who choose to live alone but have a workplace or college where they interact easily and are happy to do so. Even though they play an active part in the social sense, there may be brief moments whilst in their home when they feel alone, because they are!
These types of aloneness are fleeting but true loneliness is about feeling and being disconnected from people generally over a long period of time. So, the person who lives alone but who has a social life may also suffer from loneliness if he doesn't choose to interact at work or college and feels isolated. It’s clear then that loneliness is not all about not being around people, it's how you perceive being around those people.
Loneliness and depression can both result from the other and are often seen side by side in terms of suffering. Both promote alienation and the isolation that results becomes a big part of a self-perpetuating cycle. It can be difficult for a doctor to distinguish whether loneliness is causing depression or the other way around. The depressed state can feel very lonely with withdrawal from people being very common and loneliness can be a result of this.
Symptoms of Loneliness and Depression
- Having little or no emotion
- Self esteem issues
- Anxious, irritable and impatient
- Strange or disturbing thoughts
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Low appetite or comfort eating
- Confidence issues
- Low motivation level
- Feeling unworthy
These are just a few examples of how both loneliness and depression can present.
Causes of Loneliness and Depression
We know that depression itself can cause loneliness but there are many reasons a person may feel a chronic sense of loneliness and depression such as:
- Being bullied
- Divorce or separation
- Isolation through mental and physical illness
- Social anxiety
- Shy, introverted personality or lack of social skills
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Why We Need to Socialise
Whilst writing about motivation, psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs during life (see illustration on the right). This starts with basic needs but as you can see from the diagram, once we get older it is accepted that people have a need for social interaction, a connectedness and sense of belonging. Once we have this sense of belonging we may acquire the mental tools to build on our self esteem, to explore with confidence and feel good about ourselves.
If Marlow is right and it is a reputable theory, then you can see how loneliness and depression can stop us in our life from growing as people and reaching a sense of fulfillment or our true potential.
Tips on Addressing Loneliness and Depression
Positive thinking vs. Negative Thinking
We simply can not rely on other people alone for our happiness so it is important that we like or love ourselves in the first instance. Addressing how we think or feel about ourselves is very important. If you feel unaccepted by people generally ask yourself why that may be. Is it even a realistic belief? No one can force us to feel lonely or depressed but our perception of why we feel we should isolate ourselves plays a huge part. Write down all your personal negative beliefs and personal statements and look to how you can replace these with more positive optimistic statements. See the reality of what your negative thinking is causing. You need to want to change things in your life with enthusiasm. Seek out the help of a therapist if you find this difficult to tackle alone.
Hobbies and Interests
Depressed, lonely people tend to want to do little. They lack enthusiasm and often feel like failures. If you have dropped a hobby you once enjoyed try your best to pick it up again. Perhaps find a new hobby and preferably one that would involve interaction with other people. Gardening, relaxation, reading, writing, pilates, cookery and religion are some examples of interests that usually hold groups or classes that you can join . The list is endless.
Make a list of your interests and see if you could join a club or group locally where you would have something in common with other people. You will have to make the first step in making this happen, and though difficult, it is a great way to beat both loneliness and depression.
Family and Friends
Sadly it is a fact that people tend to shy away from others who are depressed or appear repressed but this can be overcome with effort on your part. Try to avoid talking of the way you feel when with family and friends and show interest in their lives. Being a good listener makes you a valuable person and sometimes you may not be aware of how tough a time others are having also. Invite them round for a coffee or better still arrange to have lunch with them.
Call friends you haven’t heard from for a while and join a social networking site. Although the internet is never going to be as good as actually meeting up with people it can help reduce loneliness and hence depression too. Get a headset for your PC so you can actually chat to people around the world but please do not isolate yourself further by doing this and this only. It’s an added option but not a substitute.
Helping in the Community
When you offer yourself voluntarily to the community, this often has the advantage of you being in control of how much or how little help you want to give. It will make you feel in control of something in your life which will give you a feeling of confidence and importance.
There are other groups in society that may be prone to become lonely and depressed such as the very sick, the elderly, those who are mentally or physically impaired, single parents, those recently widowed and so on. Really consider this fact. You would be in charge of how much you feel able to take on but simply doing something like reading to an aged person or chatting to them a couple of times a week would be an extremely valuable thing to do for both of you!
Perhaps you could take someone shopping once a week or help out at a local charity shop. This kind of work will give you back some self esteem, relieve boredom, gain respect from others and give you purpose. Look up local voluntary organizations in your area and take the plunge!
Exercise can help both loneliness and depression. When we exercise we release endorphins which give us that ‘feel good’ factor. Natural sunlight and fresh air can help in making us sleep and eat better. People meet up to ramble together in the countryside, walk their dogs, go hiking or fishing for example. You would be amazed how much richer your life would be by taking up such pursuits. This is a great chance to meet people and get a little healthier in the process.
Note: If you become very depressed or do not feel able to attempt any of these suggestions you should always seek the advice of your doctor.