Is it Loneliness or Anxiety? During this time of year especially, when the weather is a bit dreary, we can start feeling low. There are many of us that felt extreme loneliness during the pandemic. Many have still not gotten back into the swing of things. We’ve also had a lot of anxiety. But is there a difference? Recent studies say yes, so let’s dig in.
Is it Loneliness or Anxiety?
We live in a much different world than we used to. The pandemic and its lasting isolating effects have touched nearly all of us. And this has produced feelings and different forms of loneliness in many people at times.
To be even more precise, there are worries over the extent of what’s being described in a new study as “chronic loneliness”.
The study states that this particular type of loneliness and social anxiety are induced by different states of mind.
“The key conclusion is that chronic loneliness is a complex construct and should not be grouped with other disorders,” Dirk Scheele, PhD, a study author and researcher in the department of psychiatry at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, told Healthline.
“We might need to adapt interventions to reduce loneliness,” he added.
What has been revealed about loneliness vs. anxiety?
In the study, the researchers explored the differences by comparing how people with high and low loneliness behaved in an experimental social exercise.
Participants were asked to play a computer game where they could make a harmless bet and win a small amount of money. Or they can make a much riskier bet for a bigger sum. If the participants decided on the riskier bet, they watched a video of a virtual person showing either approval or disapproval.
People that deal with social anxiety took the safer bet more often to avoid reaction from the videos. People with extreme – or chronic – loneliness did not display this same avoidance strategy.
Here’s what the researchers discovered. People with social anxiety displayed signs of heightened anxiety as well as signs of lessened social reward.
Interestingly, neither activity pattern showed up in people with chronic loneliness. This indicates that loneliness is unique. It requires its own interventions and help.
What can be done about chronic loneliness and/or anxiety?
So, basically, chronic loneliness can be detrimental to long-term health, and it should be treated.
“Chronic loneliness can impact a person’s sense of worth, which then leads to a negative view of oneself,” Omar Ruiz,a marriage and family therapist in Wellesley, Massachusetts, stated.
“It also leads to a lack of close relationships, even with friends and family. Lastly, it can slowly develop [into] severe mental health problems that may lead to clinical depression, if untreated,” he added.
In other words: Don’t ignore it. The problem is that many of us do.
Ruiz suggests people look at loneliness in a new way and contemplate some sort of intervention to help get through it.
“Even though chronic loneliness is not identified as a mental health disorder, the impact of it can be treated with the help of a therapist specializing in relationships,” he said.
Ruiz also added that a relationship therapist can help by exploring the difficulties someone has with establishing real and meaningful relationships. He says that therapists can help them rebuild their communication and social skills as a way to really reconnect with the people in their lives again.
Unlike acute loneliness, when a person can often draw on experiences when they did not feel that way, chronic loneliness needs more in-depth help.
If You Need Support
Waters Edge Counseling has experienced therapists on staff that deal with relationship issues, anxiety, and a myriad of other problems you may be having. Please contact us at 912.319.5552 or email us if you need more support. We are here to help.