Depression heightens loneliness, which only leads to isolation. Regardless, try to do something social—it might make you feel a little better!
Are you lonely? I often am. One thing I’ve learned about loneliness is that it’s easy to get confused about “bipolar” loneliness versus “real-life” loneliness. Whenever I find myself starting to think I have no friends, nothing to look forward to, and I’ll be lonely forever, there are three strategies I use to overcome my sad feelings.
Sometimes I get deep into depression before I remember to implement this process, but it does work for me.
1. Determine Whether What You Are Feeling Is Depression or True Loneliness.
For me, loneliness is a symptom of my depression. I isolate and say no to plans because I feel overwhelmed—and then I really don’t have anything to do to counteract my sad feelings. What a vicious circle! In reality, I’m blessed with many friendships. But when I’m ill, I can’t see this. Why does it matter if I know my loneliness is from my bipolar disorder? Because by recognizing that I’m lonely because I’m depressed, I can work on the depression and force myself to deal with loneliness head-on. In other words, by treating my depression, I can heal my loneliness.
2. Turn Off Social Media and Interact With Humans and Animals.
I turn off “social” media because it’s not a solution to depression or personal loneliness—and what’s more, it’s so volatile that it can cause more problems than it solves. Like everyone, I often turn to social media when I’m feeling down. I may get a short-lived hit of endorphins, but the good feeling can quickly turn to feeling upset.
I believe that real, physical contact in the majority of our relationships is essential for stable mental health. I have learned that it’s better for me if I force myself to turn off the computer, put down my phone, and talk to someone real when my mood is low.
Many people create or at least exacerbate their own loneliness by their actions (or lack thereof). I know I do. Feeling sorry for ourselves drives us into even more isolating behavior. This is why having a plan in place for real, physical contact-eye contact, shaking hands, pulling out chairs and talking in a group, even asking recipe questions at a meat counter in the grocery store—can help.
And yes, being with pets does count as physical contact, but that’s not enough. We need contact with pets and people. How about going to a dog park with your pet and talking with other pet owners?
3. Plan Events Even If (Especially If!) You Don’t Feel Like It.
Just get out there. My final strategy is one that’s very hard to do when I’m feeling down, but it works for me just about every time. I force myself to plan events with other people, no matter how I feel.
My brain will come up with so many excuses—I need to work. I’m tired. There’s a show I want to watch—but NO! I say to myself, I am going out!
We often have to fight our own brains to get what we want in life. Planning outings when I’m depressed is never fun. But once I’m out, I almost always feel better!
If you’re reading this and you think, I can’t do that, I’m not like Julie, I’m an introvert and being social is hard for me, then I have a suggestion for you: Put aside what you think and feel now, and make yourself do something social anyway.
Focus on how you feel after the event; that is your measuring stick, not how you feel before you do it. Remember, depression will tell you that what you’re doing is pointless. It will heighten your loneliness and lead to more isolating behavior.
Do what you need to do anyway and focus on the outcome instead of on your feelings in the moment. If you come home and think, Wow, I never want to do that again, well, maybe it’s not for you. But what if you do something social with live human beings and your mood shifts and you feel less lonely? That is success! With practice, we can get used to taking better care of ourselves. That’s what I’m trying to do, and you can too.
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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