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Loneliness & Depression in Young Adults: Why & How to Cope?

Zoe Mittman, LSW

Growing up, you may have imagined your 20s to be filled with excitement, love and adventures. But life happens and reality sinks in. Your life is not what you imagined. It is complex. Filled with both pain and growth. Relationships flourish while other relationships suffer. Friends move away and family is too close. Juggling your personal and professional life gets overwhelming. You ask yourself, “what am I doing wrong”?. As you scroll on Instagram, you see acquaintances getting engaged, others getting married. You see big groups of friends spending a weekend away. 

The twenties are your prime and formative years, and yet, many young adults suffer from loneliness and depression. It is often not talked about enough, but this loneliness is painful and it is critical to cope with it properly. 

As a psychotherapist in my late twenties, I hope to bring more awareness to common life changes in your twenties that could potentially catalyze depression in young adults, and suggest effective coping strategies. 

Stressors Leading to Depression in Young Adults

Social Media and Loneliness

First and foremost, I need to mention social media, which has proven to have a direct impact on mental health. Oftentimes, when we are caught in a mindless social media scroll, we come across people posting a highlight of their lives. However, the problem starts when this mindless scrolling provokes a never-ending cycle of negative self- talk; when we compare our lives to others’, and we start feeling depressed about “why my life isn’t as exciting as theirs?”.

How to cope?

If you start to compare yourself to others, please remember that what you see is just a snapshot of someone’s life. We tend to forget too often that people portray a glorified version of their lives on social media. It’s like an x-ray. A photo shows you a moment in a given time. What happens at 11:10pm might be different than what occurred at 11:09pm and 11:11pm. With that awareness, you can then use the mantra: “other people’s lives are not the baseline for how to live my own”. 

Changing Friendships and Loneliness

One of the most common life transitions contributing to depression in young adults is changing friendship and relationship dynamics. As your friends start to seriously date, you may be feeling lonely and like there is something wrong with you. As Taylor Swift says in the song Anti-Hero, “It’s me/ hi/ I’m the problem, it’s me”. This negative inner dialogue leads to self-hatred, which intensifies loneliness. 

How to cope?

I encourage you to ask yourself: just because your friends are dating, how is that a baseline for something being wrong with you? What does “wrong” even mean? Comparing yourself to your friends, just like I talked about comparing yourself to others on social media, is detrimental. When you’re feeling this way, gratitude practices can be tremendously helpful. Write down three things that you are grateful for. This is the start of shifting your mindset from the glass half empty to the glass half full.

Also – this sounds cheesy, but I’m going to say it anyway- date yourself. This can be going for a walk to your favorite coffee shop, taking yourself to a workout class, or it can mean going to the grocery store and buying ingredients to cook one of your favorite meals. Loneliness does not necessarily go away when you are in a relationship. It just might feel pronounced now. That said, now is the time to find fulfillment and joy with yourself. 

Fighting Depression by Letting Yourself Feel

With changing friendship dynamics comes grief. We do not only grieve death. We grieve life changes as well. The 5 grief stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief is not linear. Any of these feelings may show up unexpectedly. 

Let yourself feel your feelings. You are a human being. The feeling itself is not problematic. It’s what you do with it that matters most. If you find yourself feeling angry, tune into that emotion. Pay attention to how your body feels rather than the narrative you’re creating about it. Are your palms getting sweaty? Is your body feeling tense? After cultivating awareness, you can practice regulating your nervous system. I challenge you to start with box breathing: Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and repeat until feeling calm. 

Fighting Depression by Consulting A Therapist

While I shared insight and tools in this blog, speaking with a licensed mental health professional can help you develop personalized skills to better manage life transitions. To learn more about individual counseling, reach out to Symmetry Counseling. Call 888-661-2742, text APPT to 312-578-9990, or contact us online.


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