Updated: Jun 18, 2020
HOW FEELINGS OF LONELINESS IMPACT OUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING & HOW TO COMBAT IT
We live in an age if connectivity. We are never further than a phone call away from a loved one, friend or colleague. Yet over the last decade there have been growing concerns over the rising number of people who experience loneliness, with over 9 million people living in the UK who say that they are always or often lonely, according to research from the Campaign to End Loneliness. Now, and in light of the COVID-10 Pandemic, the Mental Health Foundation has reported that over a quarter of UK adults say lockdown has made them feel lonely.
Loneliness is something that all of us have felt at some point in our lives. When you left home for the first time to go to college or university, if you’ve ever lived alone in a new place, after a break-up, as new parent awake in the early hours, or if you’ve experienced loss or grief, these are all common times when loneliness can be prevalent in our lives.
Loneliness is personal to each individual and is a complex concern for many. It is subjective and negative state of mind, and causes you to feel empty, alone, unwanted. In solitude, you are choosing to remove yourself from society, separate yourself from day-today life to perhaps complete a tasks or use the time to reflect and grow personally.
With loneliness, you can been in a room full of people and still feel lonely. People who feel lonely, often crave human connection but struggling to make those connections with others, according to studies on human behaviour.
The impact of loneliness is said to rival obesity and smoking as a health risk, with the negative affects most significantly being on our mental and physical health. Research has found that perceived social isolation and loneliness are associated with depression, cognitive decline, poor sleep quality, a weaker immune system, and potential heart problems*.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, with enforced isolation and a lack of social contact with friends and family, more and more of these feelings are becoming familiar for many. With over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over living alone and likely to be shielding (ONS, 2010) there is a growing concern for our aging population, but also the group of people experiencing loneliness due to lock-down actually said to be young people aged 18-24 and the 34-35 yr groups (Mental health Foundation), which has been coined as a new concern that could see a rise in “Generation Lonely” (Psychology).
Preventing and reducing loneliness is crucial to well-being and positive health, so to mark Loneliness Awareness Week which begins on the 15th June, how can we tackle loneliness and help ourselves and support others when the feeling of loneliness strikes?
Here are some top tips from the experts.
1. Get Some Local Support and Advice
There are a number of UK-wide initiatives now being rolled out to help support people in their communities, as well as the NASP’s work on social prescribing which looks to connect people to local community groups, activities and support to help combat loneliness. Speak to your GP about social prescribing options in your area or find a local group or social meet up. Groups like Meet Up are active all around the country and can help you feel connected and part of your local community.
2. Make Friends
Friendship is said to be one of the most positive benefits to those suffering with feelings of loneliness (International journal of Aging and Human Development). Making friends provides you with the social connection and a security network to turn to and helps protect the brain and body from stress, anxiety and depression*. Sharing in your experiences and talking to friends also leads to positive feelings and spending time together and taking part in activities can often lead to laughter and provide a contentment, and a great distraction from the more serious side of life.
3. Alone – Not Lonely
Our thinking shapes who we are and as loneliness is a state of mind that is not necessarily connected to being socially isolated, it is something that we can help change through positive mindset. In the first instance, consider the difference between loneliness and solitude. You may feel lonely because you’re physically alone. But equally, you may be surrounded by people in life, yet still feel isolated and unhappy. Mindset training can have a positive impact on your feelings according to PNAS. Take part in some mindfulness activities, and positive brain training to help re-shape your thoughts, and re-focus your mind to use your isolation as an opportunity to reflect and grow personally.
4. Find A Balance
It is important to find a balance in all areas of life to ensure that you feel content and are not missing out in one or other areas. For example, research shows that getting the right amount of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family time, and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. People who say they sleep just the right amount have lower feelings of loneliness. Those who spend time with family and friends say that they feel as though they are part of a group and can find companionship when they need it, and those that get the right amount of exercise are less likely to be lonely.
Links between technology and feelings of loneliness are on the rise and studies suggest that it’s all about how you use social media and technology that’s the issue. If you’re using devices and social networks to stay connected this can be a positive thing. But if you are spending hours scrolling mindlessly, comparing yourself and your life to others, this can have a negative impact on your mental health and increase feelings of loneliness (Psycom.net). When we unplug from technology, these feelings of comparison, dissipate. Reduce the time you spend scrolling and do something creative.
6. Get Creative
In our recent article on creativity, we demonstrated the widely proven positive effects that being creative can have on happiness. According to the BBC Arts Research, the repetitive creative motions like drawing, sewing, knitting, gardening, or painting help activate flow. When this flow is achieved, you are creating a result, and your brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good chemical that actually helps motivate and inspire you. Creativity can be a great distraction tool and help take your mind off those feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Take a look at our Pick of the Best Resources To Help You Combat Loneliness over on TheEDIT.