Monthly Archives: June 2015

loneliness and depression

If you’ve ever felt lonely, especially to a significant degree, it probably not only makes you feel a down, it’s quite likely also that you might start to have less interest in things than normal and things start to take more effort than they usually do.There is no denying that it’s not good for your mental health.

The effects of loneliness

  • It can make you think there’s something wrong with you
  • It can make you feel skeptical about the possibility of changing your situation around
  • It can affect your motivation and interest in life (including socializing)
  • It can affect your energy levels

What is depression?

Depression is when a lack of interest, and everything becoming much more effort than usual starts to impact on your quality of life. Depression can describe a set of patterns people can fall into which might keep the energy, motivation and mood low. Loneliness can certainly lead to depression, can certainly be a precipitating factor.

Loneliness as a precipitating factor for depression

It goes without saying, loneliness can make you feel pretty terrible. Loneliness can make you feel;

  • unwanted
  • unacceptable
  • Inadequate
  • like there’s something wrong with you or that you’re flawed
  • Inferior to others
  • Invisible

It’s likely that this can affect your motivation and can make you lose interest in things. Unfortunately, if you’ve been lonely and started to feel this way as a result, it’s likely that you’ve been unable to talk about those feelings and share them with others due to the massive taboo surrounding talking about it. It is these types of feelings that reduce your drive to socialize and make you want to become reclusive.

Loneliness as a source of tiredness

When you’re feeling lonely, unhappily so, it’s likely that your mind is not as peaceful as it is when your needs for social contact, intimacy and belonging to a group are properly met. Nagging worries that affect lonely people can be related to;

  • worries about what’s wrong with you
  • whether there are people who’ll accept you for you
  • In the case of being single a long time or having not had a relationship before; nagging worries about how that will affect future prospects
  • A general nagging low-level anxious feeling

Loneliness can be like an unrelenting stress. It’s likely that you’ll wake-up feeling less rested than you would do otherwise. This can be due to the fact that you might be spending more time in REM sleep & less time in deep sleep.

Loneliness & pessimism about the future

Another commonly-cited theme for depression is the the thought that things will be the same forever. There maybe real or perceived barriers to getting needs met and solving problems besides these worries about being inadequate. People who are lonely or socially-isolated can fall into traps which can block them from making progress & which can prevent them from seeing a way forward which can give grounds to lose hope. For more information;

Traps isolated people can fall into

This sense of feeling trapped can also be a source of worry & distress.

Loneliness and rumination

When people are lonely & isolated, they are much more prone to dwell on past bad experiences or evidence to suggest that they’re inadequate or unlikeable.

*What’s important to note is that with social anxiety, people can misinterpret social situations & might take away an overly-negatively biased interpretation of what happened, this can then a source of upsetting thoughts during times of loneliness and isolation. For more on the link between social anxiety;

Social anxiety and depression

How it can be a pathway to depression

It’s very simple. Social withdrawal and not sharing feelings simply allows the negative thoughts about yourself, as well as the worries to get worse and spiral. It is these worries and nagging thoughts that result from times of loneliness that are responsible for feeling more tired than normal during such times. This is due to the fact that the stress and worry results in an imbalance between REM sleep and deep sleep.

If left unchecked, severe loneliness can be a factor that erodes energy levels to a degree where tiredness and lack of motivation to do things becomes a stressor in it’s own right. By the time that happens, the full blown depression cycle is initiated.

Summary

Unfortunately, many who are negatively affected by the feelings that loneliness brings don’t talk about it due to feelings of shame. They do say a problem shared is a problem halved.

Not only that, the way the feelings of loneliness are treated if people do try to share them don’t receive much in the way of sympathy from others.

This is why I believe that openness towards loneliness is important and that this taboo against sharing it, and the belief that you’ll be a ‘burden to others’ is an absolute perversion.

Social Anxiety and Depression

It’s well known that people with social anxiety suffer from significantly more depression. It’s in some ways obvious. Depression often arises from a situation where a person’s needs are not met to a point that it causes them distress and unhappiness, and whereby they feel stuck and/or hopeless about changing it, or else pessimistic against the possibility of change. Here, we’ll look at how social anxiety causes such a situation.

1 Social anxiety prevents needs from being met

First to state the obvious. Social anxiety can severely limit your life in a number of ways and lead to great unhappiness. It can prevent people from forming friendships and relationships, as well as hindering jobs and careers. For some people, it can make these things seem out of reach and unattainable. It’s not just the needs for connection with others, being part of a group and the need for intimacy that suffers, but also one’s related to achievement, purpose and other ones that are brought through work. Of course, this is not the only ingredient for depression. See here & here. Loneliness can be soul-destroying and cause all sorts of negative thoughts, but it doesn’t quite explain the full picture.

2 They may take away biased information from social experiences

Somewher along the line, people with social anxiety and shyness often pick-up the idea that, or more like, beliefs that, they are somehow socially-inadequate, unlikeable, unattractive, social failures, haven’t got what it takes, not up to the job.

It should be noted that it’s not simply a question of lack of social success that contributes to the development of such discouraging beliefs, but the way social anxiety causes people to interpret situations for the worse that plays a key role in maintaining such beliefs. Even if social experiences go neutrally, or even well, people with social anxiety are notorious for percieving things much worse than what they are, seeing things through a negative filter, doubting compliments, doubting that people are being genuine etc. People with social anxiety pay more attention to the things that back-up any pre-existnig negative beliefs, this is called a confirmation bias. Sadly, this is one of the things that maintains and contributes to them

Social anxiety is a cruel double-whammy. Not only does it result in loneliness, but the way it biases attention can also affect what one takes away from social situations, to back-up negative ideas about you being a social failure, inadequate, unlikeable etc.

3 They may feel trapped and powerless

Another common theme seen in literature about depression is ‘pessimistic thoughts of the future’. Lets think about this a moment within the context of social anxiety. What grounds might someone have to believe that they cannot change their life for the better?

One of the worst parts of the experience of social anxiety is the profound sense of being trapped and unable to do the things that most normal people take for granted. For some, things such as joining clubs, going to parties, meeting new people etc. may seem near-impossible. Some of the fears that prevent people from taking steps to better their lot can be real roadblocks. They may have the sense that everything they do to try and improve their lot socially is in vain.

Also, the same thinking patterns and habits in social anxiety that cause one to imagine people are judging them etc. can also translate into other areas, such as problem-solving and taking action. For example; people might write-off solutions to problems or be too heavily focused on reasons why nothing will work. Such thinking can contribute to a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which in turn is a direct source of stress. This can also give reason to back-up the idea that things won’t change for the better, contributing to that distressing stuck feeling.

In summary

So here we have it, in addition to directly precipitating a toxic situation (needs not met; loneliness), social anxiety directly contributes to the development of beliefs about oneself, and of the future never changing. You may have heard of Beck’s depression triad, the three themes of beliefs; beliefs about oneself, beliefs about the wider world, and beliefs about the future not changing. So far, I’ve only hinted to 2 of the themes in this post.

Negative thoughts about oneself, which are common to loneliness, catalysed by beliefs about oneself being socially-inadequate and unlikeable picked-up along the way due to social anxiety, are both highly discouraging and de-motivating, which can cause disengagement from life, and can directly lead to emotional exhaustion by putting a burden on the dreaming/emotional processing system. In addition, there’s the theme of being stuck, which can likewise, lead to a lot of worrying and dreaming. Each of these themes and more specific beliefs will be talked-about at a later date.

Why advice on ‘fixing nervous body language’ isn’t often helpful

It’s common to see advice for becoming more confident, meeting people and talking¬† to women better emphasizing things such as ‘fixing nervous body language’. This is based on the fact that a significant part of the first impression is based on non-verbal communication, and therefore the presumption that this is where you can control people’s impressions of you. So to a lot of people, this makes logical sense on face value, but there’s one problem. For lot of people who are nervous, a large part of the anxiety that fuels it can actually be the very fear of being seen as nervous. Much advice sends the message, ‘avoid all nervousness at all costs’, ‘to be seen as nervous is the worst thing you could be seen as’, sometimes even using narratives such as ‘don’t act nervous and weird’. In social situations these are obviously not very helpful thoughts. We will see why this is and what some more helpful approaches are in a moment.

What is ‘nervous body language’

The things commonly described as ‘nervous body language’ signs are really just a set of symptoms of anxiety that show-up in social situations where you’re not very comfortable, and can in fact be made worse by trying to control them and focusing on them. Things such as;

  • facial tension
  • blushing
  • voice going wobbly
  • voice going squeaky
  • stuttering

For body language that’s not directly caused by anxiety, it can be helpful to focus on fixing. For example, fidgeting, not making eye contact, closed body language like folded arms etc. These things are voluntary. Thing thing about those items in the list above, is that trying to not show them can create the very anxiety that causes them.

Why this ‘don’t act nervous’ type of advice can be unhelpful

Since one of the most common sources of anxiety and inhibition within social situations is the thought of being seen as ‘nervous’ much conventional advice can be unhelpful because it reinforces the belief behind it, and it encourages self-consciousness within social situations. It’s the unhelpful beliefs about nervous body language and the focus on it within social situations that’s the problem, not the nervous body language itself.

Self-consciousness is the driver of anxiety and nervousness

Within a social situation, once a socially-anxious person becomes aware that they’re feeling nervous and are experiencing visible signs, they may think that it’s highly visible, and that people around them are noticing them and thinking badly of them. It is this that feeds the very same anxiety that produces the nervous body language in the first place.

In addition, if you’re busy in your head fretting about whether you’re ‘displaying the right body language’, whether people think you’re nervous or whether they think you’re weird, chances are you may not be paying much attention to any conversations happening around you. This means you miss out and are more prone to silences and quietness, which might lead to further anxiety. A big part of overcoming social anxiety involves taking the focus off yourself, off the visible symptoms, off whether they’re noticeable and what people think about them, and shifting the focus onto the conversation and things that are going on outside of you.

Much conventional advice on fixing nervous body language advocates the further focus of attention on this; a stance of ‘I must get rid of this and stop people noticing or else I’ll be seen as weird’ which as you can understand is the absolute WORST thing to focus on.

Unhelpful beliefs about nervousness

In addition to focus of attention, another part of social anxiety is the presence of rigid, inflexible beliefs about the symptoms of anxiety itself. Common ones include;

  • The idea that nervousness is terrible; nervousness=weak, weird and off-putting
  • The general idea that people are unforgiving
  • The idea that if people see you as nervous that=they don’t like you
  • The idea that if you don’t make a great impression, that’s it
  • The idea that if people don’t like you, the it means no-one will

So, not surprisingly that may seem like a lot of pressure to be under. Some advice on ‘displaying confident body language’ can actually reinforce these core beliefs.

In order to overcome nervousness, we need to change some of the beliefs and assumptions regarding experiencing it into more flexible and forgiving ones, and to learn to be kind to ourselves if we experience it, and to not pressurize ourselves when we do experience it.

Why trying to ‘act confident’ often doesn’t help

Simply because it focuses attention on the very thing that you don’t want people noticing and leads you to imagine what people might be thinking if they noticed and gets you preoccupied with it. In a social situation this is not helpful. It’s also buying into the idea ‘I must appear confident so I don’t get rejected’. It is the pressure to not show nervousness that’s the problem rather than nervousness itself. It also keeps the core belief about nervousness intact.

What’s the solution to nervous body language?

Paradoxically, you’ll feel significantly less nervous when you’re not under pressure not to be nervous. The solution to nervousness is too accept that it will happen to you and that it’s generally OK if nervousness is visible and that if people notice. Part of the process of overcoming social anxiety involves shifting the attention away from yourself and how you might come across, towards external things such as other people, the conversation, how they might be feeling, what you can notice about them, what can I pick-up on. So, in summary, as with quietness;

  • Focus your attention on the situation around you; follow conversations, see what you can latch onto rather than fret over whether you’re ‘displaying confident body language’
  • Get to know any additional sources of anxiety & discomfort within the situations you feel nervous
  • Cut yourself slack and give yourself permission to be nervous; you may be outside your comfort zone, and not yet used to the situations in which you’re nervous
  • Remember that if anyone does think you’re nervous it doesn’t mean they dislike you
  • If anyone genuinely has a problem, it’s usually their problem not yours

These are the mentalities and strategies I want you to adopt because they will help you feel more comfortable in social situations. You may have heard the advice ‘be genuinely interested in others’. You may have also heard the term that you need to ‘lose yourself’ and ‘go with the flow’. This is exactly what one needs to happen. A significant source of anxiety is already too much internal focus on how you might be coming across. You really don’t need more. Over time, your brain will gradually learn that being nervous in a social situation is ‘safe’ and you will end-up feeling less nervous.

Conclusion

This is the approach that I’ve personally found most helpful and what has worked for me. I’m just sharing my insight into my own experiences and my understanding of how social anxiety works. I believe that so much online advice on the topic can do more harm than good. I’m saying that because personally, it made my nervousness worse for the very reasons expressed above. So much advice you see on the net and on youtube actually feeds into the very beliefs and mindsets that keep nervousness intact. This makes me cross.¬†As with everything I talk about, the above more helpful mindsets will take a bit of practice in order to sink in. You will need practice at the situations you feel most nervous in for your nervousness to gradually reduce. I hope that for anyone reading this who has a problem with nervousness in social situations finds this a helpful refreshing change.