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Could Staring Into Space And Depression Be Connected?


Depression can bring unusual or embarrassing symptoms, that we may feel alone with. But many of us share the same issues.

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We’ve all found ourselves staring into space from time to time. Perhaps it’s because we’re bored, or we are lost in thought, with our minds elsewhere. Or if this happens regularly, we have been told that we are distracted and ‘away with the fairies.’ 

Before long, something pulls us back into the present moment and we continue our day without much thought of being elsewhere for a few moments. But when is staring into space a sign of something deeper than simply being distracted?

Staring into space can be indicative of deeper underlying things going on that can contribute to depression. Whilst many people may find it a welcome break from the overstimulation of life, it’s important to know when it could mean we need support.

There are a range of ways we might feel when we are staring into space:

Emotionally numb

Depression can leave us feeling a range of emotions, or perhaps nothing at all. Feeling emotionally numb or empty means that we find it hard to connect with our feelings or process them. When we stare into space, we may simply feel nothing. Our experiences become dull and the colour drains from life; things we once cared about feel neither positive nor negative anymore.

From time to time, we can experience this; perhaps we have a challenging job or there are problems within our family life that have left us feeling emotionally drained and like we have nothing left to give. But when this becomes a regular occurrence, it’s a sign that something needs addressing and we need to make some changes.

When we feel emotionally numb, we may feel disconnected from the things that once brought us joy and have a general lack of interest in life. This feeling of apathy is a common symptom of depression. If we are apathetic, we will likely feel unmotivated and indifferent. Things that mattered simply don’t seem to matter the way they once did. 

Overwhelmed

When life becomes busier than usual, or changes are thrust upon us out of the blue, we might experience a wave of overwhelm. We may feel the weight of life on our shoulders, and experience a general feeling of worry and dread. There are lots of situations in life where we may feel like we’ve lost control or are unable to cope, but when we’re already struggling with mental illness, this can feel particularly hard.

When things feel too much, it’s easier for our brains to ‘zone out’, so instead of consciously feeling what we are feeling, we may stare into space, not knowing what to do or how to help ourselves.

We may feel tearful, forget things, find it hard to make decisions, feel emotionally unstable, or feel irritable and angry. Feeling such a range of emotions can be hard going – it can be helpful for us to take a deep breath when overwhelm hits.

When we feel overwhelmed, we may suddenly feel like we’ve lost ourselves. We may not know what we want or what brings us joy anymore. 

Taking a break can prevent our overwhelm from spiralling into something bigger. These breathing techniques for stressful moments can help to calm our mind and provide clarity. A change of environment can help us to gain a different perspective, too. 

Distracted by our thoughts

When we have a lot on our mind, it can begin to affect our day-to-day life. We might find ourselves drifting off mid-conversation, unable to focus, and generally disconnected from what is happening around us. This can feel overwhelming, especially when we find ourselves unable to concentrate on simple tasks. We might find ourselves making mistakes and frustrated with the fact we’re unable to focus completely on what we’re doing. 

Our brains might feel foggy and we might find ourselves unable to think clearly. There might be many reasons that we feel like this, including lack of sleep, illness, and even dehydration. But high stress levels, anxiety and depression can also affect cognitive function and lead to brain fog.

When our thoughts are elsewhere, it can be hard to stay present with what is happening in the moment. We might begin to overthink situations in our day-to-day lives, dwelling excessively on our thoughts, analysing them for long periods and often focusing on the worst. This can be exhausting and leave little headspace and capacity to deal with other thoughts and emotions.

Putting our thoughts onto paper can help us to organise them, free up some headspace and offer us a mental break. 

Dissociation

Sometimes, when we find ourselves staring into space, it might be a form of dissociation. When we’re struggling to feel our feelings, especially if we’ve experienced trauma, our brains may stop us from feeling our emotions as a way to protect ourselves. This separation from reality becomes a coping mechanism when life feels too stressful. 

Dissociation can be a symptom of depression. People who experience it may seem distracted, have gaps in memories, and function on autopilot. It can become problematic when past trauma is not processed and begins to impact current life, so it’s important to seek advice from a mental health professional.

Daydreaming and reflection

Is staring into space a sign of depression
Staring into space can be the welcome break we need. Photo: Team Design

Sometimes, staring into space is simply a result of daydreaming. Our minds wander, and we get lost in our thoughts. It’s a natural way for our brains to process information, reflect, and explore ideas. 

When we are struggling with mental illness, daydreaming can offer us respite from the overstimulation of life. Research suggests that overstimulation may lead to depression, particularly in highly sensitive people. Staring into space can become a welcome break for our minds when they are busy absorbing and managing day-to-day life. 

Making changes

Is staring into space a sign of depression
When we’re doing too much, this adds to our already heavy feelings. Photo: Team Design

When things feel overwhelming, it can be hard to know where to turn. We know things need to change but when everything feels heavy, we may not have the energy or resources to make things feel better. It’s okay if the days feel tough right now – our feelings are valid and we are doing the best we can.

When we’re feeling overburdened by life, there are some simple things that we can do to support our mental health, and begin taking steps towards to brighter days:

Checking in with ourselves

Something that many of us might struggle to make a habit of doing is checking in with ourselves. This process of inner reflection involves connecting with our thoughts and feelings, giving ourselves permission to feel and express our emotions, noticing physical sensations in our bodies and becoming aware of ourselves and our surroundings. 

Maintaining a connection with ourselves is essential for happy and balanced living. If we aren’t sure where to start, we could begin by identifying our current emotional state. We might find it easier to write down how we’re feeling. It’s important to be honest and honour our feelings, observing them without judgment.

We could dedicate a set time each day to check in with ourselves, to help build this practice into our daily routine.

Prioritising self-care

We cannot pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes. When we find ourselves staring into space, perhaps consumed and burdened by life’s responsibilities, it’s time to take a step back and make sure we are covering the basics. Are we sleeping enough? How are our eating habits at the moment? Are we trying to do too much?

Self-care isn’t always about doing more, it can be about letting things go, asking for support, and making different choices that enable us to carve out space in our lives for the things we need. We could try focusing on making sure our basic needs are being met, talking to someone we trust about how we are feeling, trying a practice like mindfulness, or ensuring we go outdoors every day. There are some other gentle self-care ideas.

Many self-care ideas may not feel possible right now, so it’s important to be kind to ourselves and to do what feels manageable and meaningful – things won’t always feel this difficult, and there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, even if we can’t see it just yet. Self-care can help us get closer to that light.

Doing one thing at a time

Depression can leave us feeling overwhelmed, zoned out and distracted from the present moment. When we have too much on our plate, this adds pressure to our already heavy feelings, which can lead to even more overwhelm. Keeping life as simple as possible can help us to refocus our attention on ourselves, and on the things that are important to us. 

When everything feels stacked up like a huge, looming mountain, it can help to just focus on the first step. A big task may seem overwhelming, but broken into smaller chunks, it can feel much more achievable. 

Keeping things simple also helps us with symptoms of depression such as decision fatigue. This could look like planning meals for the week, checking the calendar for the week ahead on a Sunday evening, organising things like clothes in advance, or packing for school the night before if you have small children. Eliminating some of our daily decisions and planning in advance can help us to feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

Conclusion

Staring into space can allow us the headspace we need to think, process, daydream and offer us some respite from the external noise and daily demands of life. But when this is accompanied by feeling vacant, hopeless and emotionless, it could be an indication that we are suffering from depression.

It’s important to be honest about how we are feeling, whether we’re writing our feelings down or sharing them with a trusted person. Our emotions are always valid; even though things feel hard today, there will be brighter days ahead, and we don’t need to struggle through this alone. 

There are many ways that we can seek help and learn to feel more in control of our lives. When we have the courage to take one small step, whether that’s reaching out for support or addressing a much-needed change, we are putting ourselves at the beginning of a path to better, easier times.

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Resource

Blurtitout employs stringent sourcing standards, using only peer-reviewed studies and academic research to ensure the accuracy of its content. For details on their editorial process, you can visit their website. This commitment to reliable sources is crucial in the health and medical fields. If you need help finding or interpreting these sources

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  2. The Jed Foundation. (2023). Understanding Apathy | JED. [online] Available at: https://jedfoundation.org/resource/understanding-apathy/.
  3. British Heart Foundation (2024). Breathing exercises. [online] Bhf.org.uk. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/wellbeing/breathing-exercises.
  4. Mind.org.uk. (2023). What is dissociation? [online] Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders/about-dissociation/.
  5. NHS Choices (2024). Dissociative disorders. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/dissociative-disorders/.
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  7. Mind.org.uk. (2023). Self-care for depression. [online] Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/self-care/.

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