Loneliness and Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, we’re often told that things like stress, anxiety, and depression are all very much a one-way street — that they’re something you have, not something you do. Loneliness is no exception. However, new research suggests that loneliness doesn’t just lead to poor mental health — isolation can also be an independent risk factor for developing mental illness.
What does loneliness feel like?
Why is loneliness such a risk factor for mental illness?
The exact reasons why loneliness is such a risk factor for mental illness are unclear, but they likely have to do with feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and an inability to create a sense of safety and belonging. A 2018 meta-analysis indicated that the strongest path between loneliness and mental illness is via feelings of insecurity. In addition, loneliness can trigger stress, negative thought patterns, and feelings of being overwhelmed. All of these factors combined can make it difficult for lonely people to cope with stressful situations, maintain positive emotions, and navigate the challenges of daily life.
Strategies to combat loneliness and depression
Build a supportive social network: A strong social network has been found to protect against depression, so if you’re lonely, it’s important to try to make connections with others.
Reach out to others: If you feel lonely, the best way to beat it is to reach out to others. You don’t have to go through feelings of isolation alone. There are people out there who want to connect with you, but you have to reach out to them. Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist. If you don’t have someone to talk to, try an online support group.
Take care of yourself: Taking care of yourself will help you feel less lonely, allow you to better manage negative emotions, and help you break the loneliness cycle. Examples of self-care practices include getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, and spending time on hobbies and interests that bring you joy.
Strategies to combat loneliness and anxiety
Get to know yourself: When you feel lonely, it’s important to get to know yourself better. Spend some time reflecting on your strengths, values, and what defines you as a person.
Practice deep breathing: Research has found that deep breathing can be an effective way to calm anxiety. When you feel anxious, try taking deep breaths for about a minute. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You can do this while lying down or sitting in a quiet place.
Get out of your head: When you’re feeling lonely, you may spend a lot of time focusing on your feelings of insecurity and negative thoughts. To combat this, try to get out of your head and focus on the present moment. Focus on your senses (what do you see, hear, smell, and feel?), engage in physical activity, or spend time with friends.