Anxiety, Depression, & Isolation

As social creatures, we thrive when we feel connected to our community. So, it may not surprise you that conditions like anxiety and depression can intensify with increased social isolation. Alternatively, loneliness can cause us to feel anxious and depressed. 

This may leave you asking, “What is the relationship here?” or “Why do we tend to feel anxious when we’re lonely? And vice versa?”.

1. Physiological component

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), loneliness can lead to long-term stress signaling and interruptions in sleep.  This increased stress results in the body secreting hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause a spike in anxiety symptoms. For example, one might feel on edge and irritable without having a clear awareness as to why. Or, they might find it hard to relax because they can’t unwind and “turn their brain off.”

 

On the other hand, people who have persistent anxiety are more likely to experience chronic fatigue. They might struggle to maintain their relationships because they are emotionally and physically exhausted. They will often opt out of opportunities to meet new people or spend time with friends in hopes of some rest.

 

This information shows that anxiety and loneliness may physiologically reinforce one another.

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2. Social Component

When we have anxiety or depression and feel lonely, the two can feel at odds with one another. For example, when we are struggling with our mental health, it can feel like no one understands what we’re going through. This sense of loneliness then affects our confidence, sense of security, and outlook on life. This paradox can be frustrating and confusing because it prevents us from seeking support.

Additionally, our ability to cope with life’s stressors often dwindles when our sense of community is threatened. When we are feeling lonely, we are usually lacking the support we need and begin to feel hopeless.  We might even stop asking for help altogether. We start to believe that we are unlovable and unwanted as a way to better understand our isolation. This is when conditions like anxiety and depression arise. It’s almost as if we anticipate rejection as a way to protect ourselves from further hurt. 

3. Psychological component

It is understandable to not want to feel anxious, depressed, or lonely. It might feel like our emotions are too much for others or we are too busy to allow ourselves to feel them. Sometimes we may hide these uncomfortable feelings from others in order to get through the day or to avoid vulnerability. We might even feel lonely when we are in a crowded room with friends and family. When this happens, we are likely to feel isolated in our emotional experience despite our physical closeness to others. 

We may go to great lengths to avoid our feelings. We might numb ourselves by using substances, bury ourselves in work, or simply deny that these feelings exist. But because anxiety, depression, and loneliness are related, it’s important to give these emotions the time and space they deserve.  These emotions are telling us we need more connection or we need more support. So acknowledge them, bring curiosity into what you might be missing at this time, and think about what you can do to move forward to get your needs met.  

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4. Getting Help

Coping with prolonged anxiety and isolation can be difficult to do alone. It might take some time to develop an understanding of these emotions. If possible,  try to confide in at least one person who you think can help. It is okay to start small. 

If you are thinking you may need additional support, a trained therapist can help you cope with anxiety and loneliness. A therapist can help you identify underlying issues and create change through actionable steps. 

Common types of therapy used to treat anxiety and social isolation include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  CBT is a talk therapy that helps people become more aware of negative or unhelpful thought patterns that affect their feelings and behavior. CBT sessions help individuals identify misperceptions and create alternate thinking patterns. ACT therapists help people address anxiety and avoidance. They often integrate mindfulness in sessions to decrease client’s shame around their emotions and develop self-compassion. They also support you in exploring your values to help you live a more fulfilling life.

If you’re thinking you’d like to speak with a therapist and explore treatment options, please get in touch with us. We’d be more than happy to discuss how we may be able to help you.

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References:

American Psychological Association

Campbell-Sills, L., Barlow, D. H., Brown, T. A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2006). Acceptability and suppression of negative emotion in anxiety and mood disorders. Emotion, 6(4), 587–595. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.6.4.587

Team, B. (2019, May 8). When loneliness and social anxiety are at odds with one another. When Loneliness and Social Anxiety are at Odds with One Another. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from https://www.blurtitout.org/2018/12/27/loneliness-social-anxiety/.

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