It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (9th – 15th May) and this year’s theme is loneliness. Unsurprisingly the pandemic left people feeling isolated, and many will still be struggling to get used to life again now that restrictions have eased.
Given that 6% (that’s 3.2 million) of the adult population in the UK reported feeling lonely often or always in 2021, it has become more important than ever to recognise the negative impact loneliness has on both mental and physical health, and to remind people of solutions to combat loneliness.
What is loneliness?
Mental health charity MIND described it as, “The feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. Loneliness is not always the same as being alone. You may choose to be alone and live happily without much contact with other people, while others may find this a lonely experience. Or you may have lots of social contact, or be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely – especially if you don’t feel understood or cared for by the people around you.”
Different types of loneliness:
- Emotional loneliness: When someone you are very close to is no longer there e.g. relationship break-up, loss of life, moving house, new job etc.
- Social/Work loneliness: When you feel as though you lack a wider group of friends, colleagues, or neighbours.
- Transient loneliness: Feelings of loneliness come and go.
- Situational loneliness: Loneliness brought on by specific days or events e.g. weekends, Christmas, birthdays etc.
- Chronic loneliness: Feeling lonely all, or most of the time.
Loneliness can impact our mental health in the form of depression, stress, anxiety, eating disorders, and PTSD amongst others. As well as mental health, it can lead to physical health problems too. These include sleep disorders, diabetes type 2, heart disease and increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. All of these factors contribute to premature mortality.
But what can we do to combat loneliness?
We’ve chosen our top 10 tips to managing loneliness – there are a lot of suggestions out there, the main thing is not to try them all at once or expect immediate results.
- Gardening/nature – the power of being outdoors! Horticultural experts have said that being in touch with nature reduces feelings of isolation, including gardening which also helps alleviate feelings of loneliness.
- Join local sports, activity, or volunteer groups (easily found online!) to make new connections
- Take a break from social media – comparing your life to what other people post online can have a negative impact on mental health.
- Therapy – talking therapies allow you to understand your feelings of loneliness and come up with positive ways to deal with them.
- Starting a gratitude diary – regularly expressing gratitude can help with increased positive mood and lower levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness. There are always things to celebrate, no matter how small.
- Physical activity – the benefits of exercise on mental health are regularly discussed. Neurotransmitters and endorphins released after exercise boost mood and ease symptoms of depression. Joining an online class, or in person class will also make you feel part of a community and team.
- Being around pets – pets provide companionship and help reduce feelings of loneliness – if you don’t have one yourself, ask someone you know if you can borrow theirs for a few hours, or use online apps available!
- Meet colleagues in the office and ask them to go for a lunch/coffee
- Listening to music – a 2020 study published in the Music & Science journal found that participants felt less lonely after listening to their personal music, regardless of their mood before.
- Be kind to yourself – remember that reversing signs and symptoms of loneliness can take time – celebrate successes (small and large!) and surround yourself with supportive people!
- Age UK (for older people)
- MeetUpMondays (weekly coffee mornings across pubs and cafes)
- NextDoor (social network connecting local communities)
- Marmalade Trust (loneliness charity)
- Way – Widowed and Young (for those aged 50 and under who have lost their partner)
- Samaritans (crisis support): Crisis Support call 116 123
- Mind (non-crisis): Call 0300 123 3393 or Text 86463
- InsideOut: www.lettheinsideout.com – our therapists and coaches can support you via 1-2-1 sessions – for more information contact: [email protected]
 Gov.uk – Wellbeing and Loneliness – Community Life Survey 2020/21
 Understanding and Managing Loneliness – Counsellor Resources – By Rory Lees-Oakes
 Music & Science Journal – Music May Reduce Loneliness and Act as Social Surrogate for a Friend: Evidence from an Experimental Listening Study
 Marmalade Trust
Author: Holly Hutchinson, Customer Success Manager @ InsideOut