According to research carried out by the Co-op and British Red Cross, more than 9 million people in the UK always or often feel lonely. Here we take a look at what actually is loneliness, what causes it and ways to help deal with it.
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While we may be emerging from the pandemic and getting used to socialising again, social isolation still very much exists, with some people feeling anxious about mixing with others again after such a long time apart.
Given the fact social isolation and loneliness can affect our mental health, we recently spoke to experienced mental health specialist, Kirsty Lilley, about the impact. Kirsty also shares some practical tips that everybody, chartered accountants and ICAEW members included, can follow to help tackle loneliness.
Loneliness is a mood, state of mind, a lived experience, which is more common than you may think and impacts us all differently.
As mentioned at the start of the article, research carried out by the Co-op and British Red Cross has highlighted the scale of loneliness UK-wide. What’s more, the rise of hybrid working and lack of social contact during the pandemic resulted in people having limited opportunities to connect with others.
Meanwhile, other research carried out has confirmed that learning to reconnect again and find joy and solace in shared experiences is an increasingly important step in looking after our post-pandemic mental health and wellbeing. There’s also evidence out there to suggest we’re experiencing a lack of ‘social safety’, as we are still grappling with a virus that’s socially transmitted, making some people understandably anxious of mixing with others.
Chronic loneliness and stress can potentially increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and low mood. It can also impact our physical health too by disrupting our sleep with insomnia or needing too much sleep.
Human beings are inherently programmed to be social creatures, who greatly benefit from forming quality relationships with others. Although the amount of social interaction needed varies from person-to-person, these relationships enable us to feel safe and valued, which helps feed into our overall wellbeing and sense of purpose.
It can be caused by a variety of things, and different people can experience different barriers in relation to creating meaningful connections.
Symptoms include: loss of confidence, tiredness, and feeling frustrated and alone. Some people even liken it to feeling as though you are trapped in a bubble you can’t get out of.
It’s not uncommon for loneliness and isolation to be caused by a major life change. It can also be triggered by bereavement, retirement, becoming a new parent, changes to living or working conditions, ill health, low income and language barriers. Although it may be difficult to talk about your situation, there’s no shame in feeling lonely. Finding the courage to open up to others and explore the different ways to build up your social networks can really help in so many ways.
Although it may be difficult to talk about your situation, there’s no shame in feeling lonely. Finding the courage to open up to others and explore the different ways to build up your social networks can really help in so many ways.
"Finding ways to connect with others and explore and overcome loneliness can be empowering and fulfilling. Take small positive steps each day and reconnect with others at your own pace."
Mental Health Specialist
Feeling lonely isn’t something that’s usually resolved by doing just one thing. However, the good news is, there are several things that may be able to help:
Depending on your circumstances, if you can, stay in touch with the people in your life. It could be via Zoom, texts, phone calls or meeting up; all of these interactions will help reinforce the fact you aren’t alone.
Think about ways to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances. Making the first move may be daunting, but taking active steps to reacquaint with friends can bring so much joy and boost your self-confidence. It can also give others, who may be feeling lonely, the special gift of social connection.
Do what you love with like-minded people as much as you can. You may want to continue with a hobby or try something new, such as joining a new group or taking part in volunteering activities.
There are so many reasons to become a volunteer – it gives you a greater sense of purpose, connects you with others who have a shared understanding of the world, and gives your day structure and routine.
Spending time outdoors in nature is just as valuable. It can help relieve feelings of stress and isolation as we effortlessly connect with the natural world, e.g. watching the trees sway and listening to the birds sing.
Tuning into podcasts or radio programmes are really effective for helping boost your mood and occupying your mind, distracting you from feeling lonely and disconnected in the process.
You may feel too embarrassed to tell somebody you’re feeling lonely, but it’s important to remember you’re not the only person to feel this way, and bottling up your feelings won’t make you feel any better.
Consider reaching out to others who might also be feeling lonely and need your help. Sometimes, by helping others we can help ourselves too, even though you may not realise it initially.
It could be that you need some professional help – there are plenty of support services out there, including mental health support from caba, which includes counselling and coaching. Additionally, you could try Qwell? A safe and confidential space to share experiences and get support from a community and qualified professionals.
Think about ways to embrace your creativity, e.g. through music, journaling, doodling, rock painting or colouring in. These types of activities can help relieve difficult feelings and help you learn how to sit with them until they pass.
We are all unique and finding ways to connect with others and explore and overcome loneliness can be empowering and fulfilling. Take small positive steps each day and reconnect with others at your own pace. And remember, it’s perfectly fine to not follow the crowd.
Written by mental health expert Kirsty Lilley
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