Anxiety and loneliness: Why your anxiety makes you feel really alone

Are you feeling lonely?

“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.

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.

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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.

Empathy, empath, anxiety and loneliness

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.

The four agreements, anxiety and loneliness

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.  

anxiety and loneliness, why your anxiety makes you feel alone, feeling lonely

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.

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.

Tell me about how your anxiety affects your social life in the comments. And please share the article if you found it helpful!

You might be feeling alone but you are SO not.

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Related posts for anxiety and loneliness:

7 Interesting Facts About Anxiety

Anxiety and Irritability

Anxiety and Stomach Aches

How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety

100 thoughts on “Anxiety and loneliness: Why your anxiety makes you feel really alone”

  1. I think it’s so true that the most important relationship you have is with yourself. How you feel about yourself, how you honor and care for yourself impacts all of your other relationships. When everyone else is gone, all we have left is ourselves. Feeling comfortable with ourselves is huge.

    1. Hey Kathy, it’s definitely huge. Especially now when we’re having to not see friends as often. It’s good to be okay spending time alone from time to time. Thanks for reading!

  2. One of my loved ones suffers from panic anxiety at times. Luckily, she is usually able to call when she is about to have an attack and can calm down by talking to someone. Since she lives alone, I am not sure I think that might contribute to her anxiety at times. No matter what time it is, I always take her calls.

  3. I love that you brought this up. Feeling so anxious about something has led me to isolate myself more than once. Unless you’ve personally dealt with it, you just can’t understand how the two go hand and hand.

  4. I think the correlation between anxiety and loneliness is seldom talked about so thank you for this lovely piece of work and the tips you gave as well. For me, I like staying home and being alone when I’m anxious so it really creates the perfect storm for loneliness sometimes. I also feel bad about asking for support and help cause of my anxiety which can make me feel even more alone. Interesting how it all relates and webs into a big ol’ mess haha

  5. This is such an important topic to talk about, as so many of us are isolated and alone because of mental illness. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis and it’s all consuming. Thank you for sharing this with us all (and for the awesome book recommendations – they may have made their way to my book wishlist).
    Take care!

  6. Talking to people or writing through your blog is a huge step in taking care of your mental health. It’s 2020 and I’m so grateful that talking about mental issues is a positive vs a negative anymore. You’re wonderful and keep writing to us. Thank you, Jen 🙂

  7. Anxiety is definitely made me lonely especially since the few close friends I had moved away. We still keep in touch thankfully but life sure gets lonely. I know a lot of people but I think my depression and anxiety has kept me from getting close to them. Fear of unacceptance is real.

  8. I feel you girl. I suffered from anxiety for many years. It was hard for me to even ride in a car much less drive a car. But after changing my diet and not drinking coffee, tea, or sodas anymore. It all went away. My B12 was below the charts and getting that back in the right spot also helped. You have to do what works for you.

  9. Reading this I recognised a lot of my fiance in this post. He suffers occasionally with bouts of anxiety and he does completely isolate himself in moments or craves constant reassurance from me that I still love him.

    It is so hard to watch this play out but this post has really given me some clarity.

    Thank you
    Claire x

  10. Thank you for sharing this! While I can understand why mental illness may be too much for someone, it’s also heartbreaking to see someone start to pull away. Especially when you’re at a place in your mental illness that you need them most.

  11. In my early 20s loneliness hit me hard, my anxiety and depression spiralled and it was a never ending cycle for a few years.

    I found someone willing to stick with me, through my anxiety and depression thankfully.

  12. 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?

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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