How To Deal With Loneliness While Living With Anxiety

Anxiety makes it difficult to reach out to others when feeling lonely, especially if you feel like a burden. It’s a struggle I can relate to and a cycle you can break.
Watercolor Silhouette Of Woman's Face Looking To The Right, The Back Of Her Head Fading Into A Cacophony Of Paint Splashes, Mental Health Concept

When dealing with anxiety-derived loneliness, I’ve found that it’s important to avoid social isolation in whatever ways are feasible — even if it’s a little uncomfortable.

Key Takeaways:

  • Loneliness and anxiety tend to interplay in a vicious cycle — when you’re feeling lonely, you’re more susceptible to negative thought patterns, which can then intensify your anxiety.
  • In my experience, reaching out to a friend can help ease your fears surrounding social situations (including navigating them) and despite what you may feel, you’re not being a “burden” if you do.
  • You can learn healthy coping mechanisms and connect with others to fight the cycle of anxiety and loneliness.

Struggling with loneliness or having a mental health crisis?

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Loneliness is something that people with mental illness often experience, as I’ve written about previously.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I usually want to be alone whenever I’m feeling more anxious than usual.

As it turns out, that’s not the best coping mechanism.

Yes, it’s good to relax and recharge when needed, of course, but I’ve found that isolating myself at home and actively avoiding people can make me feel very lonely.

For most people, there is a limit to how much alone time is actually helpful.

Eventually, you can find yourself spending more and more time by yourself, which only further contributes to anxiety and even feelings of depression.

It’s a vicious cycle of loneliness and anxiety that can be extremely difficult to pull yourself out of.

Why Do People With Anxiety Experience Loneliness?

When I’m experiencing anxiety, I want to be alone —  but as I mentioned earlier, being alone then fills me with more anxiety.

It’s like I’m playing a game I just cannot win.

Whenever I’m feeling loneliness and anxiety, I’m also usually dealing with:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Believing people will judge me in social situations
  • Fear that my family and friends don’t understand me
  • Internalized shame — even if it isn’t deserved
  • Feeling like a failure
  • The fear that I am somehow a burden to my friends or family
  • Being immobilized by not knowing how to deal with anxious feelings
  • Feeling like a loser who doesn’t know how to socialize
  • The stigma associated with having a mental illness

Believe me when I say I am feeling one or more of these at any given time.

Although I feel like staying home alone will reduce my anxiety, evidence shows that this is not true.

Loneliness contributes to anxiety because when you’re feeling lonely, you’re already more susceptible to negative thought patterns to begin with, which only intensify the anxiety you’re experiencing.

Additionally, when you’re by yourself, there is no one there to help you pull out of it.

So why don’t we reach out when we’re experiencing anxiety and loneliness?

Fear, of course.

Fear of reaching out only perpetuates social isolation when you’re dealing with anxiety.

We’re afraid of being judged if we reach out for help — as much as we’re afraid of being rejected after doing so.

Anxiety causes what feels like an endless cycle of negative thinking that makes us actively avoid connecting with others because we’re afraid that we won’t be understood, or that we’re unlovable, or [insert the individual fears you’re dealing with here].

The more we avoid the things we fear, the stronger our feelings of anxiety over them will become.

And the more time we spend in isolation away from others, the harder it is to even think about putting ourselves back out there to connect with others.

We can’t help but feel so alone.

Having support is crucial for people with anxiety — and especially social anxiety.

Human beings need socialization for good mental health, and a support system of friends or family can help keep anxiety at bay.

Whatever your circumstances are, having someone you can talk with and relate to can help you to realize you’re not “crazy” and you’re definitely not alone.

Being without any support when you’re feeling anxious can increase your feelings of loneliness, which is why it’s so important to reach out to someone when you’re struggling.

You might think you don’t have a support system, but you don’t need a whole squad of friends.

Just one supportive person can be enough to help you get through times of high anxiety.

Unfortunately, for people with anxiety, this can be a real catch-22.

I know I like to have support, but my anxiety can keep me from reaching out because socializing is not very enjoyable during times of high anxiety.

My mind will always go to the “worst case scenario,” which makes me feel out of control — so I stay home.

It’s “safer” that way, you see.

I also may not reach out to someone because I’ll feel like a burden if I do.

People have busy lives and their own problems to deal with. I don’t want to bother them with my issues on top of all that.

This kind of thinking is exactly what makes anxiety and loneliness so tricky to navigate.

It’s a constant battle.

How To Deal With Loneliness While Struggling With Anxiety

As I mentioned earlier, anxiety is correlated with fearful and negative thoughts.

It puts you deep inside your own head so you become fixated on the experience of those negative thoughts.

For this reason, managing anxiety usually requires distractions, which help you avoid overthinking so you can just live your life.

Overthinking is much harder to do when you’re not left alone to stew in your thoughts.

Although it may seem like you can overcome your anxiety by yourself — and sometimes you can — the truth is that when you’re isolated, you are prone to have negative thoughts for a more extended period.

These are some of the ways that have helped me uncouple my anxiety and loneliness:

Reach Out To Family Or Friends

This is a no-brainer, I know — but there is a reason why I’m listing this coping mechanism right away.

I’ll be the first person to admit that reaching out to family or friends is also often the hardest thing to do.

My gut instinct tells me to avoid people at all costs whenever I’m facing high anxiety, but in the end, that does me no favors.

Even though the people closest to you want to be there to help when you feel alone, it might be difficult for them to know that you even feel that way.

You have to reach out and tell them.

It can be hard to talk about loneliness with others, I know.

At the same time, when you confide in someone you trust and tell them exactly how you feel, it lets them know you need support.

They may not realize it, otherwise.

Many of us do a pretty good job of keeping up appearances when we’re around others so they won’t know there is anything “wrong” — but the other side of the coin is that they can’t help if they’re unaware that you’re struggling.

Reaching out will let them know you need help engaging in more social activities.

And a friend might even provide helpful advice about navigating challenging social situations to help ease your fears and make you more confident in your social skills.

Ignore The Stigma And Try Therapy

Even if you have never tried therapy before, it is essential to remember that loneliness is associated with worse outcomes for mental health as a result of the negative thought cycle it creates.

For example, someone who is feeling lonely is more likely to expect an adverse outcome from social interaction and will then remember the negative aspect of that interaction later.

Have you ever been awake late at night, replaying a bad social interaction over and over again?

These types of thoughts can be paralyzing when you’re dealing with anxiety and they can make it very hard for someone to participate in new social situations.

Therapy can be highly beneficial for anxiety and loneliness because it helps you to confront and overcome disturbing thoughts relating to social situations while also helping you to learn how to navigate them.

Mental health care has been stigmatized for so long, but thankfully, the more we discuss it openly, the more the stigma dissipates.

There is nothing wrong with going to therapy and you’re not “broken” if you do — think of it as you would any other type of medical care.

If you had a toothache, you’d go to the dentist, right?

Treat your mental health with the same amount of care and attention.

Join A Club Or A Class For Low-Key Socialization

If you have a hobby or a topic of interest you’d like to learn more about, a great way to get out and socialize is to join a group of people who share your passion.

Classes are especially great because everyone is there to learn something — there is no pressure to socialize with your classmates unless you want to.

Community colleges and local recreation centers often have courses you can sign up for, whether you want to learn more about a particular subject or you’d like to immerse yourself in a new hobby.

It’s always good to keep expanding your mind, but this type of activity can also provide you with some much-needed distraction, too.

I mentioned earlier how distractions can help ease anxiety because they stop you from overthinking.

Classes or hobbies are perfect for this.

If a class isn’t your thing or you’re seeking an activity that will “force” you to socialize more, you can also find like-minded groups through Facebook, Google, or other social media sites.

There are also services designed for finding social groups in your city, like Meetup.

If you’re into antiquing, for instance, you might find a group that hosts monthly outings to local antique stores.

There are groups of all sorts, no matter your interests — they’re just waiting to be found.

Consider Volunteer Work

You can increase your opportunities for social contact and improve your support system at the same time by volunteering for a cause you really care about.

The bonus is that you can make a positive change in your community while being around like-minded people who share your passion.

While working with others in this capacity, you’ll get to know people in a low-stress environment.

After all, you’re not there to socialize, per se — you’re working together for the greater good.

Over time, however, this may expand your social circle and support system in an organic way.

If you don’t know of an organization to volunteer for, we have a list of resources here, but you can also visit your local community center or library for more information.

These places usually have lots of information about volunteering locally and can help you find worthy causes that match your interests.

Adopt A Pet For Companionship

Adopting a pet is a big decision, but human-animal relationships may help with loneliness and mental health issues.

There are so many health benefits associated with having a pet, it’s no wonder there are so many service animals.

When you’re feeling anxious, there’s nothing better than cuddling up with a pet who loves you unconditionally and thinks you’re the best.

And when you adopt, you’re saving a life, so it’s a win-win!

On the weekends, you can find pet adoption events where you can meet all the dogs and cats.

Try contacting the Humane Society or your local pet shelter for more information, or read through our list of pet adoption resources here.

Closing Thoughts

Anxiety can make it difficult to reach out to others when you’re feeling lonely, especially when you feel like a burden.

It’s a struggle I can relate to.

The truth is that many people have anxiety, and by reaching out, you will undoubtedly benefit from the support system that’s waiting for you.

Anxiety and loneliness are a cycle you can break once you learn healthy coping mechanisms and understand that connecting with others is the most favorable thing you can do for yourself.

Always remember this: You’re not alone.

Friends and family want to help — they just need to know how you feel.

Don’t be afraid to tell them.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types we might experience during our lives.

Find Help Now

If you’re struggling with loneliness while also dealing with anxiety, we’ve put together resources to meet you wherever you are — whether you want someone to talk to right now, or are looking for longer-term ways to help ease your loneliness.