If you suffer from loneliness from time to time, ironically, you’re not alone. Most of us will experience loneliness at some time in our lives, according to ‘The Lonely Society’, a report published by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF). The report, based on data provided by over 2,000 people, found that 48% of those surveyed believed that Britain is becoming a lonelier place.
The Covid-19 pandemic is partly to blame. After spending so long in survival mode, isolated from the ones we love, many of us still find it increasingly hard to coax ourselves out of that more guarded and introverted mindset. In addition, the move from communal offices to remote working has also changed the lives of millions of people across the UK. We spend more time at work than anywhere else, so as a result, remote workers are now at risk of spending large amounts of time by themselves.
The ever-advancing progression of technology and social media is also believed to be a contributor. Despite claims that technology helps us connect with people around us, many experts believe that having constant access to technology can actually prevent us from building personal relationships.
Although many of us will be familiar with the upset of not being invited to a party, or the devastation of losing a loved one, what many people don’t know is that loneliness can also have a serious impact on our physical health. This stems from our experience as social animals in the early days of mankind’s development. As we hunted together in packs and relied on each other for protection from predators, we learned that social bonding was essential for survival. This early conditioning has stayed with us right up to the present day, which is why being on your own for long periods of time can have such a damaging impact on our health. The work of neuroscientists such as John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago has shown that the stress of loneliness can directly affect our mental and physical wellbeing, with a cumulative effect on the heart that is the equivalent of a non-smoker taking up smoking.
So, with this in mind, what’s the best way to overcome loneliness?
Get a new job or share your skills
If you’re approaching retirement and dreading the day when you’ll swap the friendly banter of your co-workers for the dubious pleasures of daytime television, it’s a good idea to find an outlet for the skills you have acquired during your working life. Why not use your free time to volunteer for a local charity, or try joining a new group or class? You’ll meet new people and be filled with a revived sense of purpose.
It’s easy to let loneliness eat away at your confidence and self-esteem. Try to avoid falling into a negative headspace by practicing gratitude, meditation and mindfulness. Reminding yourself about the good things in life or reminiscing on happy times can help you to think more positively. It’s also important to make sure you’re eating healthily, exercising as much as possible and sleeping well.
Reach out to someone
Talking to someone about how you feel can be a helpful way to cope with the negative emotions associated with loneliness. Over a third of the individuals surveyed in the MFH report said they had a close friend or relative who was ‘very lonely’, so a logical first step would be to start with the people that you know.
If you don’t have any personal contacts who are in need of your companionship, you can always spread the net a little wider. The campaigning and lobbying organisation Campaign to End Loneliness doesn’t recruit volunteers directly but you can visit their website at www.campaigntoendloneliness.org to find information about volunteering opportunities.
You may need a bit of courage to get started, particularly if you’ve lost confidence in your social skills, but once you’ve rediscovered the art of connecting with others, you’ll wonder why you lingered so long!
Find support online
Using technology in the right way can be a fantastic way to meet new like-minded people. As loneliness is such a widespread problem, the online world is full of people seeking meaningful connections. Find people with similar interests by joining Facebook or Meetup groups, and check to see if any apps you use, like fitness or workout apps, have a social element or discussion board to join.
While you do have to be careful, it’s possible to find real support, connection and lasting friendships with people you meet online.