How to deal with loneliness?



Loneliness and Depression: all consuming…

For the majority of us, social connections are an important life feed for psychological well being. Loneliness can be good for us as at some points, it pushes us to find a social life. Most of us primitively feel safe and secured with important social ties in life. For some, social life is oxygen for being alive. For others, it simply means having some social interactions from time to time. In fact, many people are not socially very active but they do not feel lonely because they have others aspects of life, such as reading, individual hobbies or ideas that engage them. This category of people does not need to be pushed to be more socially active as they usually do not feel alone.

However, there are others who feel sad and isolated without rich social bonds. They feel that way as they may lack the vitality that is required to extend themselves to a social existence. It becomes difficult to communicate, exchange ideas and feelings, hence they avoid meeting people. Feeling secluded is sometimes a very heavy experience in life that can make us feel depressed and dejected. Exchanging positive feelings can be very therapeutic: it can make a depressed person feel hopeful about recovery. Otherwise, depressed people usually do not accept, appreciate or take in comforting words from others. Moreover, they do not feel capable of comforting others.

“Creating affectionate social bonds can help you be less lonely and perhaps prevent depression.”


Feeling lonely could be a starting point when we are desperate for friendships. A lot of times, this happens as we lack skills which are required to engage with others. We find the demands that relationships require from us very taxing. We are too sensitive and cannot face rejection. It is difficult for us to sacrifice ourselves and share efforts, time and energy with others. These skills can be taught. We should teach children very young these social skills by exposure and helping them negotiate, express and share with others.

Depression is different from loneliness. When a person feels depressed he/she cuts all his social connections and withdraws from all relationships. He or she feels so hopeless that it is difficult to feel for others or react to others. The self absorption is usually long and deep enough to damage friendships and family relationships. If the person seeks treatment and starts feeling less depressed, that is when he or she is lonely. Not all lonely people are depressed but loneliness is definitely a journey towards depression.

Social connections are important for human survival and loneliness can either be a strong compulsion from return towards social life or it can be a push towards depression. We live in a community that helps us fulfill our socio-emotional as well as other needs. If we are able to feel for one person and he or she mutually reciprocates, we can heal from loneliness.


Symptoms of Depression:

Depression is a condition that affects all age group right from children to old age.

• Sense of failure: At times, we have this ideal self in our minds which we are not able to achieve. The gap between our expectations from self (or from others) and our achievements leads to a sense of failure. This makes us feel worthless and lowers our self esteem. This further also makes us feel Hopeless about life as our thinking patterns turn absolute and negative building up on thoughts about how we can never fulfill our own expectations or people’s expectations. The ideal self could be unrealistic and the circle could be a vicious one. This leads to pessimism.

• Lack of expression, specially anger: When we feel depressed it is difficult for us to feel, react or express, specially anger towards others even though it is possible to be constantly irritated and restless. We turn our anger towards ourselves and blame ourselves for our failures and state of mind or heart. This leads to guilt, shame and disappointment.

• Overwhelming pressures: In our day-to-day life, we feel that the challenges we face are too much for us to bear. They are insurmountable and we start feeling desperate and full of heavy emotions. As a consequence, we find it very difficult to concentrate or even remember things. Our decision making often gets affected.

• Sense of loss: Depression could be a result of loosing someone or termination of a long term process. In this case, we feel we constantly miss something or someone.

• Suffering from loneliness: As mentioned earlier, loneliness is a feeling of not being cared for, not being able to sustain social connections or a feeling of being isolated from others. This may lead to depression. You might start liking a lot of materialistic possessions which would substitute engagements with real people or might indulge in prolonged hot showers, frequent caffeine or tea, or in whatever it takes to stay away from people in order to spend more independent time. Overindulgence with your virtual friends on the internet can also show some beginning signs. These are not really symptoms of depression, but if these behaviours are new to you and last for over prolonged period of time, they could be seen as symptoms of depression. They become a symptom when there is lack of self control i.e. despite having an agenda to get back to your normal routine, you are not able to control your addiction to these new above mentioned behaviours, as you feel they help you get distracted from your hopelessness.

• Sleeping patterns are fragmented: Either you may suffer from insomnia or excessive sleeping. Sometimes you do not even realise that you are not getting good enough sleep despite sleeping for a particular number of hours as you keep waking up and do not feel refreshed when awake. Sleep is a very important aspect of human health, while we sleep our brain flushes out toxins from our body. Lack of sleep could be one of the symptoms of depression.

• Loss of interest in Chores, which were previously pleasurable: When we feel depressed, we start losing interest in activities through which we used to derive happiness earlier. We start avoiding participating in anything and everything as long as it can be avoided. You feel fatigued and very low on energy, and hence you prefer to rest and spend time alone. Excessive sadness also affects your immune system and you start falling sick very often. You also feel a lot of physical discomfort like pain, digestive problems, lose your drives, impulses and motivations for life, or experience a lot of emptiness. Sometimes you also start feeling suicidal. Some of us also attempt suicide.

Diet disorders: You either indulge yourself into binge eating and eat a lot in compulsion, or you lose appetite. You also do not eat at regular intervals and have very irregular meal pattern. You could also eat a lot of junk food, sweet, caffeine, or alcohol as opposed to eating healthy nutritious food. A lot of weight gain or loss can be a sign of depression.


What can you do as a self help measures for depression?

Depression can be treated but a staggering number of people do not seek help and suffer with the symptoms throughout their life span. It brings down your quality of life drastically and affects all areas of life like family, friends, work, health and hobbies. Depressed individuals usually procrastinate and dangerously neglect most aspects of their life. Most depressed people go unheard; talking can start making a difference to their life. If you are going through mild or moderate level of depression just talking about your problems can help you by putting things into perspective. You will become more aware of the triggers of your excessive sadness and will be able to work towards the same. Professional help is available. But for severe depression where there are suicidal thoughts, you should immediately take medical help at the nearest hospital or clinic.

Here are some actions you can take as self help measures:

• Take care of yourself: You should start with taking care of our diet by adopting a healthier food intake at regular intakes; avoid harmful substances in large amounts. Exercising works as an anti depressant as it helps our brain release chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins that help us feel good and also induces energy. Schedule your day properly, and keep a time slot for outdoor activities (e.g. walking, jogging…).

• Start recording and being aware of your negative thinking pattern: You may make absolute thinking patterns like “I am a loser”, “They do not like me”, “I can never succeed”, “Things will always remain the same”, etc; These statements are irrational, not based on facts and will make you further depressed. As a consequence, some of those statements might become true with time. Try to consciously change the way you think by changing these statements into realistic, practical ones such as: “this time, things did not work out but there is no reason why things would not work out again in future”; “I prefer if they like me but I am fine with anything”; ”I do not feel good about myself but I will keep chalking out things to improve”. Depression sometimes becomes an emotional longstanding habitual experience where we get used to a life like that. Do not let that happen to you. Be aware, accept and seek help, otherwise it can get worse.

• Try to engage with others in your life: Probably the best way to do that is by helping others and being kind to them. This is a good way to distract yourself from your sadness in a productive way that could become a point of recovery for you. Once you care for others, others might also reach out to you and you could start feeling connected again. When you start feeling and caring for others’ needs, it will definitely come back to you in due time. It is fine even if you feel you are sacrificing more of your resources both emotional and physical than you are receiving. Beginnings are usually tough. Be persistent, do not give up. It is certainly challenging but you ought to plan and take a few small defined steps. Executing what you have planned is the key to recovery!

All of us feel lonely from time to time. Sometimes, it happens at any random time and also while surrounded by people. But when loneliness starts affecting our moods in day-to-day life, then we need to be aware and work towards it. Social bonds help break through loneliness as they provide nurturance and security. A sense of belongingness is a basic human need. Loneliness does not necessary indicate depression but it is one of the many symptoms of depression.

When you start noticing few of the above described depression symptoms, you should not hesitate in seeking help from a counsellor. Do not think you are the only one in this situation. There are many others like you across all possible age groups. Taking care of depression makes you a healthier and happier person, and gives you a chance to fulfil your needs and desires, as well as meet your own expectations and those of your loved ones. Feel free to ask me a question or book an appointment if you think that you are in this situation and do not know how to deal with loneliness.

Richa Khetawat is a trained Psychologist providing online counselling services in a professionally helping manner to facilitate transitions in life. She has over 10 years of experience helping individuals cope with managing family and relationships issues, stress and anxiety, life transitions, children parenting and adolescent issues.