Whilst in the midst of the recent lockdown, there have been a number of concerns regarding the effect this will have on loneliness. According to the campaign to end loneliness (https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/) there are an estimated 9 million people in the UK who experience loneliness on a regular basis. Whilst a lot is mentioned about the older generation being prone to loneliness it is now being felt by younger people in growing numbers. A survey by Action for Children showed that 43% of 17-25 year olds had experienced loneliness. Furthermore 24% of parents felt they were always or often lonely.
Health risks of loneliness
Loneliness carries a significant number of health risks;
- Loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
- Loneliness is more damaging to your health then obesity (Holt-Lunstad 2010)
- Lonely People are at a higher risk from, heart disease, dementia and depression (Cacioppo et al, 2006)
- Loneliness is likely to increase premature death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)
From a personal point of view there have been times when I have felt lonely, and although they have only lasted a few weeks or months, I have noticed a change in my mental and physical well-being. Four months of lock down due to Covid-19 has reminded me of what it felt like in not being able to connect with other people.
Re-connecting with people
It might sound obvious, but loneliness is caused by losing connection with other people. There are many reasons for this and everyone has their own way of connecting with others, however I have listed five strategies that have worked for me and I am applying to my daily life as I emerge from isolation.
To do List
When spending time alone it’s very easy to become lethargic and without any kind of daily structure its easy to just procrastinate. The paradox is you have plenty of time on your hands and yet its often difficult to get things done.
During the lockdown I wrote a to-do list every morning. It often had a lot of quite mundane things to do, such as cleaning jobs or what I was going to cook for dinner, but by having a list it gave me a structure to work to. Crossing something off the list, however mundane the task, gave me a feeling of having done something, and helped me to get things done which I could have quite easily have left.
Its so easy and convenient to shop online these days, and you can do it all from the comfort of your home. However, by staying at home and shopping online there is an opportunity missed. I enjoy visiting the local shops, I’ve been doing it so long now that they know me by name and know my shopping habits. But best of all I get to talk to another human, even if it is only a brief hello or a chat about the weather. Barbara Fredrickson in her book Love 2.0 refers to this as a micro moment of love. She argues that any human connection, however brief, triggers a response similar to how we feel when we love someone. That’s not to say we fall in love with everyone we meet but it’s that feeling that we have connected to someone else. She goes on to say that the more of these connections we have the happier we become. So, imagine instead of ordering numerous items from one online store try visiting a handful of local shops and build connections with the people you meet. The British Independent retail association also list a number of other benefits to shopping locally on the website https://bira.co.uk/shop-local/
Join a Meetup group
If there is an activity you are quite passionate about the chances are that other people are too. Meetup (www.meetup.com) is an organisation that encourages people to meet up and share their activities. There are numerous different groups run by the group members and offer a wide range of activities. It’s a great way to meet like minded people who share your interests. There may also be other groups who put on activities that you have never tried but would like to have a go. The very fact I’m writing this blog is because I saw a local meetup organising events around positive psychology. I enjoyed it so much I went to University and got myself a degree in the subject (and in doing so met lots of wonderful people and made some great friends)
Volunteering for a local charity is a wonderful way to get out of the house and meet people. There are so many different ways to volunteer and it has to be one of the most satisfying ways to spend your time. I belong to a group that looks after parks and green spaces locally. I get lots of fresh air, do tasks which are immensely fulfilling and get to spend some time with people I would never have normally met. The local council has a list of different organisations and the types of volunteer they are looking for.
Borrow a dog
One thing I noticed when I owned a dog is just how many people I got to meet, many of whom became friends. When you have a dog there is something in common and if you get into a daily routine there are others who do the same. Dogs are not as shy as humans when it comes to introducing themselves to another dog, which often gives a great ice breaker to start a conversation with the owner. By having a dog you straight away have something in common.
But what if you don’t want the commitment of owning a dog? A simple solution is to borrow one. I’m lucky as there is a local neighbour who is happy to lend me their dog, however I have friends who have found dogs to borrow through websites such as borrow my doggy (https://www.borrowmydoggy.com/) Owners don’t have time to walk their dogs, so by offering to look after their dog for a few hours you get all the benefits of walking a dog without the commitment of owning one.
Beating Loneliness is, to say the least, can be very challenging, but there are ways it can be done. I have offered the steps I have taken in the past and I’m sure there are many more, but with the lockdown easing there are opportunities opening up to connect with others, and by taking small steps there are ways to re connect with people again.