Once again, I hope this period is not proving to be too difficult for you and your loved ones. This is the third blog of this series and is focused on managing loneliness. My previous COVID-19 blogs titled ‘Ways to maintain your Wellbeing’ and ‘Coping with uncertainty and other difficult thoughts and feelings’ can be found below this post. As always, any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.
Humans are social creatures. Back in caveman/woman times, without each other we’d struggle to survive. There was virtually no way that we’d be able to hunt, cook, fight, make a shelter and our clothes, all on our own. As a result, part of our brain is wired to seek out other people and seek social approval.
Thankfully, in today’s world, we have so much available to us (supermarkets, ovens, houses, online shopping) that it is relatively easy to survive on our own. However, whilst we can survive in the physical sense, it does not mean we will feel good mentally when on our own. This is because there is still that part of our brain that believes we need others to survive. This is why regulations surrounding staying indoors, social distancing and working from home can be tough. If you’re living on your own you may not be able to get the physical human contact that your mind craves. It is therefore natural that your brain is going to react with concern.
Loneliness is the feeling we get when we are not able to achieve the level of social interaction we desire. It can play a significant impact on our mental health and can unfortunately lead us to feel anxious and depressed. I therefore hope these tips help.
Tip 1: Think of alternative ways of making contact with others
If you’re unable to go out, try to think of other ways in which you can see people. Phoning, text, WhatsApp and FaceTime / video calls are great ways to stay in contact with friends and family. This can help remind you that there are people around. There are even some great mobile apps to help link up with friends in group video – Houseparty is one of these apps (www.houseparty.com).
Tip 2: Talk to people online
If you have a hobby/interest then there’s a high chance that there’s an online forum dedicated to the subject. This’ll enable you to chat to others with similar interests. Tapatalk (www.tapatalk.com) hosts thousands of different forums, where you can chat to others. Dating apps too, and online games can also be great ways to interact with others.
Tip 3: Just observe others
Just observing other people outside can be really helpful. So, if you can go out, take some time to do some people-watching. Or if you live near others, sit by your window and watch the world go by. Even waving to someone or saying hello to a neighbour through their window can help us feel a little less lonely.
Tip 4: Learn to spend time with you.
This period could be a great time to learn how to make the best of being with yourself and comfortable in your own company. For example, during this period could be a time to learn a new skill, read up on something you’ve always wanted to know more about. It could be cooking, yoga, writing a novel (or just a journal!), or just reading that book that you got for Christmas five years ago that always goes in the ‘I’ll read that after I’ve done (insert mundane task)’ pile.
Tip 5: Make plans for the future
We can learn a lot about ourselves in our own company. Some things we may like, some we may not. But recognising these gives us an avenue to make changes to improve, to set goals on how we may go about things differently in the future.
Tip 6: Got any pets?
Pets can be a great reliever of loneliness; spending some quality time with them can be a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness.
Tip 7: Just for older people….
If you’re one of the 8.5 million older people in this country then this period may hit you the hardest. The length of time you may be asked to self-isolate to keep yourself well could naturally have an effect on your mental health. Understandably, feelings of loneliness could appear. There are people out there though, and AgeUK (www.ageuk.org.uk), Independent Age (www.independantage.org) and The Silver Line (www.thesilverline.org.uk) all can provide further advice as well as their ever popular befriending services.
This is just a small list of tips that I thought were more applicable to the current difficult situation we’re in than a typical list (which, naturally, invariably involves meeting up with new people or old friends!).
If loneliness is an ongoing problem for you, there are lots of places out there that can help. There are charities that specialise in helping with loneliness. One of which is Campaign to End Loneliness (https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/). On this website you can find links to all sorts of places, including other befriending services and volunteering opportunities. Indeed, once normality returns and we do not need to stay indoors then there are many websites around which can help us meet new, likeminded people – Meetup (www.meetup.com) is a great (non-dating!) site where you can meet new people in your area.
Finally, I just wanted to add that if loneliness has been a long-standing problem for you, then it’s important to recognise the value of small steps to help overcome it. For example, if the idea of volunteering is daunting, then just set your first goal to write the email to enquire, or just have a short phone call. If attending a yoga class is something that interests you but feels overwhelming, then perhaps ring the organiser and ask if you can just watch for a session. I also help many people for whom loneliness is a result of shyness/social anxiety; working on the latter can be a really helpful way of helping with the former, so just ask if you’d like help here. It’s such a common difficulty and I’d be more than happy to help.