It is estimated that up to 30% of the UK population report feeling lonely on a regular basis or for a prolonged period of time. Sadly, one in ten people also feel like they do not have a close friend, and one in five feel unloved. These are shocking statistics considering the physical and mental health implications long term loneliness can have.
Loneliness is already a national health issue with research indicating a link between loneliness and heightened mortality risk. Unsurprisingly measures such as lockdown, social distancing and quarantine have caused a rise in loneliness during the pandemic. According to The Guardian, two in five adults in the UK felt lonelier during lockdown.
From the figures highlighted it is easy to see that most of us will experience loneliness at some point in our lives. Loneliness is a state of mind that can cause us to feel empty, unloved or unwanted. It is a negative emotional response to perceived isolation, interestingly researchers have shown that loneliness and rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain.
Feeling lonely can affect anyone. Sometimes we can be surrounded by family and friends and still feel lonely, as it is the quality of interactions rather than the quantity that enable us to feel connected.
Life events such as moving home or school, physical isolation, losing a loved one, low self-esteem and depression can all cause someone to feel a sense of loneliness. Having a mental health problem can also increase your chance of feeling lonely.
Unfortunately, loneliness and mental health have a roundabout effect. Loneliness can also have a negative impact on your mental health. Research suggests that loneliness is linked to an increased risk of mental health problems such as depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress.
So, how can we combat these increased feelings of loneliness at a time where we are being asked to significantly reduce our physical contact with other people?
Coronavirus is impacting all our lives, and we know that we are unable to combat loneliness in the same ways we may have done pre-lockdown.
So, here are some tips for kicking loneliness during lockdown:
Stay in contact: Make sure you check in with your friends and family anytime you can. Apps such as ‘FaceTime’, ‘Skype’, ‘Zoom’ and ‘WhatsApp’ all allow you to video call and share photos for free. Technology has been our biggest asset during the pandemic. It has made it possible to keep in touch and see our loved ones daily.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a routine is an important part of keeping structure to your day and will give you a feeling of control. A healthy diet and regular exercise isn’t just good for our physical health. It has a positive impact on our mental health. It improves our mood and sleep. To read more about how exercise improves your mental health click here.
Ask for help: Always remember to reach out and ask for help if you are struggling. You can contact your GP and organisations such as Mind, Campaign to End Loneliness and Age UK, for support and information. You could also contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: email@example.com if you need someone to talk to.
‘Lets Talk Loneliness’ has more advise, resources and inspirational stories to help get people talking about loneliness. #LetsTalkLoneliness
Join an online group or class: That focuses on something you enjoy – that could be anything from an online exercise class, a cooking class, book club, quiz etc.
Volunteering: Is a great way to help us feel connected to others and boost our self-worth. The Mental Health Foundation have compiled a list of organisations who are taking on volunteers to help at this difficult time. Giving your time to help others creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation.
The power of kindness: Linked with volunteering, acts of kindness have been shown to promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness and when we are kind to others we build our own support networks, which can improve our self-esteem.
Share your story: People who are experiencing loneliness often share less with others through fear of rejection, this in turn makes it more difficult to form meaningful connections with new people. Sharing your story helps you connect with people on a deeper level.
Remember, you are not alone in feeling lonely. There is support available to help you take small steps to find meaningful connections or reconnect with loved ones during lockdown and beyond.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Martin Luther King
Photo by Samuel Austin on Unsplash