It is easy to see loneliness and depression as an endless cycle. If we are lonely, we can become depressed and the more depressed we are, the less likely we are to make the social connections we need for a healthy emotional life. But as with other types of cycles, even a little chink can break the loneliness/depression pattern, and improve the health of our minds and our bodies as well.
You would think as “connected” as we all with social media, texts, and emails, that we would seldom have time to be lonely. But an article in the latest Mayo Clinic HealthLetter reports that as a society, we are all a little lonelier than ever before. The amount of time we spend with technology takes away time we need for face-to-face communication. And it is only face time that develops the deep connections and interactions that our minds, hearts, and even bodies need.
Loneliness from loss
Oftentimes loneliness is something that is thrust upon us. We experience the loss of a dear friend or spouse, and every minute that clicks by without them makes us feel more and more lost and depressed. We may lose our daily connections if we lose a job, or if co-workers or neighbors move away. When we lose whatever support group we used to have, it is not easy knowing how to find a new one, and we allow ourselves to become more isolated rather than try.
In Psychology Today, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson writes that continued loneliness causes what she calls “maladaptive thinking.” In other words, the more we are lonely and isolated, the more we expect to be rejected, or we imagine a slight every time people fail to notice us just because they had something else on their minds. Sadly, negative expectations can be self-fulfilling. “Lonely people,” Halvorson explains, “don’t expect things to go well for them, and consequently, they often don’t.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, these feelings of isolation also cause real physical harm, including insomnia, and inflammatory diseases like arthritis and heart disease. The worse your body feels, the more likely you are to avoid going out, and the more your depression can grow.
Small changes can do a lot.
Even simple changes to your daily routine can help you feel more accepted, and willing to risk making new friends.
- Call old friends on the phone, or even just a quick hello to someone you haven’t seen for a while. Ask about how they are, and show you are still interested and still care.
- Be positive. No one likes to hear complaining, so recharge your personal connections with a positive attitude.
- Try something new. Take a class or learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to learn French cooking or another language? Interacting with people in a learning situation breaks down barriers, and lets you all share the experience of being novices together.
- Volunteer. There may be no people happier to see you than non-profit organizations which need volunteers. You can teach people to read, you can serve meals, help build houses, or be a mentor. The choices are endless, and it is hard to be depressed when you see how appreciated you are.
- Be a good listener. The more you take interest in other people the more they will be interested in you.
- Expect to like people, and expect to be accepted. When we truly value other people, it shows on our faces and in our eyes. When we approach other people, they know we are happy to see them…even if we’ve never met before. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you like other people, they will be much more inclined to like you back.
As you begin to make more social connections, don’t forget to allow time for solitude. Being alone for quiet time or with a good book or hobby is far different from loneliness. When solitude is cherished it refuels your mind and spirit. You become more comfortable with who you are, and more confident as you reach out to those around you. When you feel more confident, and you cherish yourself, depression caused by loneliness will have little reason to stick around.
“Loneliness, a surprising health risk,” The Mayo Clinic HealthLetter, Volume 32, Number 7, July 2014, page 6.
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