Loneliness and Depression

Upcoming snippet from my Ebook on mental health, this chapter may change but for now here is what I have –

Loneliness and Depression

Many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gathers we needed our tribes. Losing or being excluded from the tribe would mean that our lives we’re at serious risk from attacks and not finding food.

We needed the tribe.

Today we don’t have to worry about hunting for food, Just a walk down almost any street and there will be a shop nearby, Don’t fancy a walk or a drive? A few clicks on your phone or laptop and you can order food to your door. 

We don’t need somebody to watch our backs from a lion attack either. 

When our hunter-gather ancestors would lose or get rejected from the tribe for whatever reason, the tribe that they have helped protect and also been protected by they would start to feel lonely.

Loneliness and Depression aren’t the same.

Depression makes you want to retreat and close off from the world whereas Loneliness makes you want to reconnect to people. They are like polar opposites that often come as a duo.

Loneliness was the natural response for our ancestors, They would want to find and reconnect with the tribe as soon as they could for protection.

Depression comes afterwards and yes you can be Lonley and Depressed. 

Say our ancestor tried to join a hunting party and got rejected the depression that kicks in would be a natural response for them, it would instead of making them charge forward, Make them retreat and hold back preserving energy so that they could analyse the interaction, or observe the group it was trying to join. The depressed state could also signal to the group that this individual needs help and get attention from them that way (314-319)

Health effects of Loneliness

Health effects of 

Today we don’t need a tribe for safety and our survival yet that feeling of loneliness is still present and it has some severe health effects if not sorted.

(Which at the time of writing the effects of Lockdown will be far more disastrous than Covid-19) 

Even though loneliness makes you want to connect with people, Loneliness also makes you perceive others more as a threat and it makes you pick up social signals that you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t lonely (319.) This can be counterproductive and make the much needed social interaction awkward and preventing you from making that connection.

Loneliness seems to have wear and tear effect on health.

Health behaviours of the lonely 

Without meaningful connections and people looking out for lonely individuals they tend to stop caring for themselves as they get older.

Lonely young adults consumed less alcohol than adults who were not lonely, however by middle age, Lonely adults consumed more alcohol (320,321) The same pattern can be shown for exercise and dietary habits too, The young lonely peoples exercise and dietary habits weren’t much different than non-lonley however by middle age non-lonley people exercised on average 10 more minutes per day and consumed 25% fewer calories than lonely individuals.

Stress and coping

Lonely people tend to express greater feelings of helplessness and threat. Studies from the authors of Loneliness (319) found that the lonely, both young and old, perceived the hassles and stresses of everyday life to be more severe than did their nonlonely counterparts, even though the objective stressors they encountered were essentially the same.

To make things worse for lonely individuals they find small social uplifts of everyday life to be less intense and less gratifying than non-lonily individuals. (319 & 322) 

As we know stress is normal and manageable stressors can make us stronger and keep us motivated but the build of constant stress creates more stress. Lonely people instead of facing the challenge tend to withdraw and avoid facing the stressor. Basically, grin and bear it whilst hoping the situation just disappears (319.) The greater the loneliness the less likely the person would actively face the stressor as well as the greater the loneliness the less likely the person would seek support (Practical or emotional) (319.)

Physiological response of Lonilnyness

As we discussed in part 2 Stress activates the Sympathetic nervous system in response to a stressor, Back in our tribal days, this would have been a sabertooth tiger attack, once the threat had gone our parasympathetic system would kick back in and allow our rest and digestion to return to normal.

As we know in today’s day and age our stress does not come from a sabertooth tiger attack, It comes in the form of emails, traffic, a nagging boss, poor diet and so much more. These don’t just come and go either they’re with us for years and years, day after day.

Higher traces of the stress hormone Ephineptherin were found Lonley people (323) And the wear and tear of feeling lonely affects the body’s immune and cardiovascular system (319)

Loneliness may damage the cardiovascular system not just by inflicting stress, but also by promoting passive coping in the face of stress

Coping passively-which is what we do when we feel isolated-raises blood pressure primarily by constricting the small arteries, also known as increasing total peripheral resistance (324) At the same time, loneliness makes the lonely person less able to absorb the stress-reducing benefits that others derive from the comfort and intimacy of their human contacts.

Loneliness and Rest

In part 2 we discussed that lack of sleep can lead to depression, as well as disrupting the hormones that make us crave more sugary foods. Lonely young adults reported taking longer to fall asleep and also feeling greater daytime fatigue (325.) similar findings, and longitudinal analyses confirmed that it was loneliness specifically that was associated with changes in daytime fatigue (319). Even though the lonely got the same quantity of sleep as the nonlonely, their quality of sleep was greatly diminished. (326)

Overcoming Loneliness (and Depression)

Everybody is unique and has a different need for connection. For example, I don’t need a lot of meaningful connection to rid the effects of loneliness.

I’m a self-described loner, I like my own company and can easily go on a holiday or sit in a restaurant on my own and be happy. However, if I go a long period without meaningful connections then the effects of loneliness will kick in. Others may need a lot of meaningful connection all the time.

Simply being around people isn’t enough, You can be around people all the time and still feel lonely. To cure loneliness you need people + 1 other thing, Meaningful connection (327.)

Using myself as an example being a bit of a social outcast the things that are meaningful to me, make others roll their eyes, I was at a family meal once and the family started talking about something I had a particular interest in (Money or business I think) so I started to give my 2cents and in response, I was greeted with ‘Oh here we go.’ 

Other times I’ve been speaking to people close to me and I’ve had similar responses ‘No one cares about your book found wisdom bullshit.’

Even though in both of those circumstances I’ve been around people close to me I felt I couldn’t talk to them and in turn felt lonely.

It’s important to find people you can talk to about things that matter to you, putting yourself in the right environment is crucial for that to happen. I don’t blame people when they have no interest in what I have to say, Not everyone has the same interests as me, but people do. For me the gym is one of the best places to socialise, people their not only have an interest in health and fitness but generally enjoy personal development as well. 

If for example, you are passionate about making the earth greener then you can join tree planting communities, clean up groups etc. In the book Lost Connections (327) an example used for overcoming loneliness and depression was from a gardening community, The people instead of seeing a Therapist to talk about their depression was assigned to a gardening project.

It gave the people something to focus on and be around people too, over time they got to trust each other and started to talk about their depression and help each other, as well as being in the outdoors. 

In the western world we generally only look out for ourselves but that’s not how we evolved and even though we don’t need others for safety we still need others for our mental health.

Joining a gym or private personal training program is a great way to overcome loneliness and depression. By that I mean don’t just join, whack your headphones on and spend your time on the treadmill in the corner. I mean join a class or a group PT program, Like the gardening project it gives you something to work on overtime (Your health), you have others around you who you can help and also receive help from, over time you make friends with people. You feel better, get healthier.

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