Dealing with depression and loneliness is hard. You feel so isolated. It’s cold and lonely. At least for me, my energy level goes down, and I don’t take care of myself, which only reinforces the negative feelings. It’s a vicious cycle that’s so hard to break. And the winters in the Pacific Northwest do not help combat depression. So how do you deal with depression and loneliness when all feels hopeless?
The Harm of Loneliness
Loneliness and social isolation are linked to depression. They also raise the risk of anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. Connection helps protect yourself from these risks. If only finding genuine connections was easy, then we would have nothing to worry about, but it’s not. And the fact that feelings of isolation and loneliness are growing in younger generations is worrying. (Those feelings of isolation doubled in school-aged kids from 2012 to 2018. And that’s before Covid.)
Try New Activities
I should stress that these new activities should be social. If playing video games alone in my apartment relieved my depression and feelings of loneliness, I would be unstoppable. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that. You must try new things and put yourself in a position for success.
I moved to Portland in the middle of the pandemic. I didn’t know a soul. The loneliness was real for the first two years. It was me, myself, and I (and my very cute wiener dog, Molly). I wallowed in the loneliness for longer than I’d like to admit. The only connections I had were 3000 miles away. Luckily I had a few friends who also worked from home, so we would sit in Discord all day while we worked. But it’s not the same as grabbing a beer with friends on the weekend. So what did I do when the world opened back up? I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I joined a rock climbing gym. I am from South Florida. We DON’T rock climb. But it was the single best decision I’ve made since moving to Portland. I made some friends with whom I could grab that beer after a climb. And meeting those guys led to meeting even more people. I know it’s cliche, but luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I intentionally put myself in a position to meet new people and then went against my introverted nature and introduced myself to people. I was lucky.
Find a new social activity and run with it. Check out your local community centers for art classes or join a gym. Do something. Nothing will change unless you change.
How often have you been told exercise is good for your mental health? It makes me roll my eyes before I even realize it. Yes, it is good for your mental health, but telling someone to go for a run when rolling out of bed and brushing their teeth is harder than it ever should be. It shows how clueless some people are. Discipline is not easy, but when you are fighting off depression, it feels next to impossible. The thing that pisses me off is those days when I can go to the gym first thing in the morning. I feel so good the rest of the day. I feel so productive that it sets the ball rolling for the rest of my day. So I try to hold on to that feeling on the harder days.
I gamify working out as much as I can. I need to trick my brain that the gym is fun. It’s like when moms blend vegetables in pasta sauce to trick their kids. You have to trick yourself. My gamification consists of the stupid little health bars on my iPhone and paying myself a dollar for every mile I run in a month. I hate lifting waits, but I put it on my anime playlist, and now I’m in my training arc phase, getting ready to fit the big bad villain. Find a system that works for you.
You’re Not Alone
I’ve noticed that I feel my most alone when I feel ungrounded. I might be 3000 miles from my friends back home, and we might all be super busy living life, but a random call during the weekend grounds me. It’s a reminder that there are people who have my back. A 5-minute conversation with my little sister or my mom checks my brain. It’s a small reminder that I’m not alone. (And if my little sister is reading this, no, you’re not). Talking to someone on the phone isn’t the same as hanging out with them in person, but it’s something. And a little something is better than nothing. I can sit around feeling lonely, or I can call my friend and talk to him about what movies we’ve watched lately and smile the whole time. Feed your heart with warmth when you feel cold and alone.