7 signs someone is deeply unhappy in life, according to psychology

People aren’t always honest about their emotions.

We all have our own reasons for covering up our true feelings, like not wanting others to worry about us or trying to fit in with a group.

We even have sayings to this effect.

Grin and bear it. Put on a brave face.

Don’t show them any fear.

The truth, though, is that people’s true emotions really shouldn’t be buried deep down inside.

If they are, it becomes hard for even the most empathetic of people to recognize these emotions and try to help the person deal with them.

Unhappiness and depression are so often hidden away because these emotions are stigmatized. Sufferers fear they’ll be labeled as “a downer,” a “party-pooper,” or worse.

But when someone is extremely unhappy in life, it becomes almost impossible to keep this true emotion hidden. Instead, it comes out in their affect and their behavior.

If you have a bit of knowledge, you can recognize some patterns that can alert you to a person who really needs care and compassion.

So here are seven signs someone is deeply unhappy in life, according to psychology, which can help you help others.

1) Sleeping too much or too little

Insomnia, or not sleeping enough, is commonly associated with unhappiness in life and even major depression.

According to research, roughly 75% of people who suffer from clinical depression also experience insomnia at least some of the time.

However, hypersomnia, or sleeping too much, is also a sign of depression.

Sleeping too much is present in 40% of young (under 30) depressed adults, especially females.

With these numbers, it’s clear that sleep disorders affect just about everyone who is deeply unhappy in life.

Sleep disturbances are also major barriers to healthy and happy lives, so this further compounds the problem.

Depressed people tend to seek medical attention due to sleep disorders more than for depression itself, just because they’re so crippling.

People who sleep too much feel like they have no energy to wake up and get out of bed.

You might even know of the famous case of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who, following a breakdown, became severely unhappy and spent most of 1973 in bed.

Insomnia can be even more damaging to the mind and body.

If you’ve ever stayed awake for a long period of time, you know that you can experience poor focus and memory, irritability, sleepiness, a lack of coordination, and many other negative symptoms.

This can make healing all the more difficult.

2) Being emotionally unstable

When a person is deeply unhappy, they may still try to bury those unhappy feelings, but they’ll often be unsuccessful.

No matter how far down they get pushed, they’ll spring back up in surprising and stressful situations.

This will end up making the person seem emotionally unstable because one minute, they seem perfectly happy, and the next, they’re bawling their eyes out.

Anger can also seemingly come out of nowhere.

I know that a long time ago when I was really struggling with life, I would get extremely angry over the tiniest of things.

And I’m not an angry person, normally. 

But my girlfriend had left me, my boss and I didn’t get along, and I was having financial woes all at once.

It was just too much at once and I had started to feel a lot of pressure.

But I didn’t recognize how unhappy I was until these outbursts of anger started to really affect my relationships with friends, family, and even coworkers.

That’s when I knew I needed help.

Research has shown that poor emotional regulation is quite normal for people who are deeply unhappy. 

Even when people try to regulate their emotions through suppression or rumination, they end up being a cause for depression and physiological diseases. 

But the good news is that adaptive emotional regulation strategies like reappraisal and reframing can help.

In other words, it helps for people to talk about their feelings and seek other perspectives to help them see things in a new light.

3) Being negative and pessimistic

One of the easiest ways to spot someone who’s deeply unhappy in life is to look for negativity and pessimism.

A person who’s deeply unhappy, even depressed, will have trouble experiencing positive emotions even if they have every reason to.

For example, think of someone who’s feeling very sad and alone.

On their birthday, many friends and relatives are able to assemble and celebrate their birthday. However, they still don’t feel happy or excited.

This is anhedonia, or the absence of pleasure, and it’s one of the diagnostic signs of clinical depression.

Not only do people find it hard to experience pleasure, they can also struggle to have positive thoughts and expressions.

This always makes me think of Eeyore, the gloomy, grey donkey from Winnie the Pooh.

Even on a beautiful sunny day, he’s famous for saying, “Don’t blame me if it rains.”

He represents continual pessimism and never has anything positive to say, just like most people who are truly unhappy in life.

4) Abusing substances

There is a major correlation between substance abuse and depression.

According to studies, up to 40% of people who suffer from substance use disorders (drugs and alcohol) also show signs of clinical depression.

But do we know which causes which?

Do depressed people abuse substances in order to help them experience some fun and excitement in their lives or to self-medicate a block out negative feelings?

Or does the abuse of some substances cause depression?

Research suggests that both of these cause-effect directions are true.

And they can compound.

If someone starts abusing alcohol because they’re depressed and then the alcohol abuse causes them to be even more depressed, we can see a clear downward spiral that many people get stuck in.

If you notice that a person you know has started abusing drugs or alcohol, meaning using more than they need to for mild enjoyment and with damaging results, chances are they’re not just partying to have fun.

This is a clear sign that they’re deeply unhappy and are in need of help.

5) Not practicing self-care

When most of us think about self-care, we picture multi-step skin-care routines or relaxing spa days.

These can certainly be a part of a person’s self-care practice, but it also goes much broader than that.

One medical study defines self-care as “a range of activities and approaches undertaken by an individual to maintain health and manage ill health”. 

I think it’s fair to add to this definition activities that maintain a person’s appearance as well as their mental health.

So we’re looking at a range of activities that include everything from combing or brushing hair, dressing in clean clothes, exercising, eating well, taking appropriate supplements and medications, getting enough sleep, and maintaining relationships.

During the COVID pandemic, many people lost their jobs and were socially isolated.

A study performed by telephone survey during this period found that self-care practices were low in people who had moderate to severe depressive symptoms.

While diminished self-care may be a result of severe unhappiness in life, the study found that introducing self-care practices can help reduce symptoms of depression.

If you notice someone who’s just not taking care of themself like they used to, you can be fairly sure that they’re deeply unhappy.

6) Feeling lonely

Loneliness and depression have long been associated with each other.

We all know how unhappy we can feel when we’re on our own and feeling cut off from others.

The image of a lonely jailbird running a metal cup back and forth across the bars comes to mind.

A recent study tested which way this relationship between depression and loneliness goes.

It found that loneliness was predicted by depressive symptoms but not the other way around.

This means that people who are depressed are often lonely, but lonely people don’t necessarily become depressed.

Loneliness may contribute to depression, however, by producing more loneliness and feelings of rejection.

People who are lonely often develop maladaptive behaviors to deal with it, and that can make them even more cut off from others.

It’s clear, though, that if a person is deeply lonely, they may well be suffering from an equally deep unhappiness in life.

7) Changes in appetite

According to Chicago band Joan of Arc, “It’s easier to drink on an empty stomach than to eat on a broken heart.”

This lyric encapsulates both the substance abuse and appetite changes that suggest depression.

When deeply unhappy, some people will overeat because they find food a comfort.

However, others will feel a distinct lack of appetite and will skip meals or hardly eat at all.

So, if you notice a person gaining weight or losing it without dieting, they could very well be depressed. 

These seven signs someone is deeply unhappy in life, according to psychology, are almost impossible to hide.

They reveal the truth behind any mask and show you a person who is in need of help and consideration.

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