anxiety and loneliness

Anxiety and loneliness: Part 2 of anxiety series

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“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” (Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper, because I love Jodi Picoult quotes.)

Loneliness is one of the hardest parts of living with mental illness.  Sometimes, it is self-imposed. You just can’t bear the shame of living with your disease, and you fear the effects it might have on others.  Or maybe it’s involuntary, and your loved ones have virtually abandoned you in the wake of your illness.

Whatever the case, loneliness is not something I would wish on anyone.  And I don’t mean alone time. I think we all need time alone to reflect and heal.  I’m talking about craving genuine closeness with other people and being left wanting.

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Loneliness is the first fact about anxiety that I wanted to talk about in this series.  The series is based off of a post about anxiety that I wrote several months ago.

It affects millions with anxiety, and with other mental illnesses as well.

My story of anxiety and loneliness

I’ve had social anxiety for as long as I can remember.  It started in middle school. Which was strange, because in grade school and middle school, I had a ton of meaningful friendships.  I am still in contact with many of them, despite 20 years having past.  My social anxiety stems more in larger groups, like classrooms. Being surrounded by all that energy and emotions was hard for my developing brain to deal with.

I’m still that way today, although my anxiety has expanded to a more general sort.  It’s hard to be around people because I tend to absorb whatever they are feeling and it can be a lot to process.

For that reason, I find myself imposing loneliness upon myself, even though my depression makes me crave validation and togetherness.

I’m at a sort of turning point in my adult life where I am re-evaluating a lot of friendships.  As a stay at home mom of two little ones (they’re currently about 4.5 and 3), it’s necessary to have a social circle.  But my time is precious. I want to spend time with people who are adding to my life, and who don’t make it seem like a chore to maintain our friendship.  I’m finally ditching energy vampires!

How anxiety causes loneliness

Anxiety can make you terrible at togetherness.  Anais Nin said, “Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.” 

I’m sure there are some people living with anxiety who rock at friendships and don’t find them difficult at all, but the reality for millions of people is that love is HARD.  Family dynamics, friendships, romantic attachments, parenting… It is unbelievably hard.

Sometimes, the loneliness is intentional, and sometimes it’s not, so I will talk about both.

Self-imposed loneliness

It can be really common for people with anxiety to isolate themselves.  Sometimes, like me, they are too drained by the energy of other people. If that is true for you, you are likely an empath like myself, and I highly recommend the following book for dealing with those emotions.

Or maybe, you are just afraid that people will “be able to tell.”  Before I started speaking openly about my mental illness, I felt this way.  What about you? Do you hold back from meaningful attachments because you are afraid people will discover your vulnerabilities?  That they will judge you, or worse, abandon you?

If you feel that way, you are not alone.  Speaking up to friends and family about anxiety and other illnesses can be really scary, initially.

Unintentional loneliness

This is really sad, but it also happens, and is worth mentioning.  Sometimes, for various reasons, people will not be able to handle your illness.  They will grow weary of needing to be supportive, and they will gradually (or suddenly) remove themselves from your life.

I understand how hard this is.  Your feelings of abandonment and hurt and shame are completely valid.  I’ve been ghosted, and it sucks. But try to think of it this way: Those people did not deserve you.  They likely suffered from some sort of emotional issue themselves. Maybe they were afraid they would somehow mess up while being supportive.  Or maybe your emotions triggered some sort of painful memory.

The thing to keep in mind is: Don’t take it personally.  That is one of The Four Agreements, a life changing book I read about interpersonal relationships that I highly recommend. Their actions are a THEM problem, not a YOU problem.

How to spot it in a friend

Maybe you’re not the anxious one.  Maybe your friend is suffering from anxiety.  As I mentioned in my previous post about anxiety, it is incredibly common.  40 million adults live in the United States live with anxiety per year, so it is likely that your friend is one of them.

Here are some simple ways you can tell if a friend is anxious and it is affecting them socially, according to BetterHelp:

  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Avoidance
  • Anticipated Anxiety
  • Ruminating
  • Expecting the Worst
  • Blushing
  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Mind Blanking
  • Muscle Tension
  • Difficulty Interacting with Strangers
  • Uncomfortable Attending Parties
  • Difficulty Starting Conversations
  • Difficulty with Dating
  • Unable to Go to Work or School
  • Difficulty with Eye Contact
  • Difficulty with Public Restrooms
  • Hard Time Entering a Room
  • Difficulty Going to a Store

If your friend has even one or more of these, they are likely living with some form of anxiety.  Speaking from experience, these are awful feelings to live with, and they can be the reason that many anxious people find themselves feeling lonely.

You can have meaningful relationships.

I have certainly felt the all-encompassing loneliness that comes with anxiety, both intentional and unintentional.  It hurts, and there might be lost friendships and loves you never get over. I have lost friends even recently that I grieve for.  

But I have a supportive spouse who is my best friend.  I have two amazing little buddies that I get to hang out with every day.  I’ve made blogger friends. Mom friends on Facebook. I am very close with my sister.  I have a dear friend that indulges my love of true crime.

anxiety and loneliness, interesting facts about anxiety, anxiety, mental health
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Maybe I’m not the biggest social butterfly.  But I’m doing okay.

The most important relationship you can have is with yourself.  Make sure you connect with a good therapist and begin to heal from some of these negative feelings.  That small ripple will lead to other ripples, and you will soon find it easier to connect with others.

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34 thoughts on “Anxiety and loneliness: Part 2 of anxiety series”

  1. Hi! This is good stuff. Would also love to hear the tie in with depression. I know that loneliness goes hand in hand with deppressive episodes for me. Depression often leads to anxiety and loneliness for me. Is this typical would you say?

  2. I love that you talk about self imposed loneliness. I am currently going through this. It is not so much anxiety (i think) as it is fear of being hurt by people who say they are friends. It is such a hard situation to be lonely but know I just need to reach out to people. This is so real!

  3. There is such a stigmas around anxiety and mental illness in general,
    People who don’t have anxiety don’t understand and if you can’t see the illness they act like it’s not there.
    Finding the right support system and friends is so important. Also practicing self care and allowing yourself to just feel is important to.
    Knowing when to step back and take a break from all that causes the anxiety and coming up with mental exercises can help to work through the anxiety,
    Thank you for your post!

  4. I have a hard time connecting with people also due to anxiety. I’m also super introverted. Yet I get lonely. It’s like I want an invite to the party but don’t want to go.

  5. Thank you for sharing this – anxiety can be such an isolating condition so it’s great that more people are starting to share their stories 🙂

  6. This was an eye opening read. I can relate to the desire to impose loneliness. As a teacher, I’m always on, so on the weekends, I prefer to huddle up with my family and be alone to recharge from all the emotions and energy I expend during the week. I’d never recognized that in myself before. I just attributed it to being tired.

  7. I can totally identify with the social anxiety in large groups. Before, I continued reading, I thought, I wonder if she’s an empath? I too have trouble with large groups because I tend to absorb the feelings and energy in a room and it can be so overwhelming. Alright, now I’m going to go back to reading, lol.

  8. This article really resonated with me – I have a chronic illness and I found that many friends, friends I thought were my besties, just let. They couldn’t handle my illness… It was heartbreaking.Thank goodness on the flip side other friends really stepped up.

  9. I’m so glad that society is finally learning more about mental health including anxiety and depression. It is way more common than we think and the myths surrounding it need to stop. That’s the only way those suffering will really be able to get help.

  10. Jen,
    You have covered this all together!
    This reminds me of a just-concluded master class for entrepreneurs addressing separation. They all came to the conclusion that ‘separation’ does not mean ‘isolation’.
    The moment you remove yourself from – let’s say – a toxic environment, there is an instant void. If not filled, it progresses to isolation, anxiety, and loneliness. You’ve got to learn to fill that void with positive people, things, books, and activities. These are part of the small ripples, that fill up to the bigger meaning connections of impact.
    A great highlight for that entrepreneur to know that separation is part of success.
    I have tagged you in the schedule to share the blog.

  11. At this point in my life I welcome the loneliness. Sometimes it’s best to be by yourself anyway. I just find it hard to trust people nowadays and I don’t have time for drama.

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