Loneliness used to be a topic connected only to older people. The perception was that as we age, our health deteriorates and social isolation sets in, resulting in the 65+ age group being most likely to feel the physical and mental impacts of loneliness. How could anyone pre-retirement feel lonely with the busy work and home lives that we all lead? Plus, we are so connected. Digital technology means that we have a world of people literally at our fingertips.
Sadly, the loneliness epidemic is widespread and does not discriminate. The Co-Op and the British Red Cross found in their study that over 9 million adults (almost one-fifth of the population) report they are always or often lonely. The threat to health is significant. Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Physically, loneliness affects our blood pressure, increases our risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke and increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. Mentally, we’re at greater risk of cognitive decline – depression, loneliness and low social interaction have been proven to be predictive of suicide.
It’s safe to say that loneliness is a serious issue and one that the government isn’t taking lightly. An all-party parliamentary group published the Government’s ‘Loneliness Strategy’ in October 2018, which set out a number of initiatives to help tackle the problem. One of those strategies is the ‘Let’s Talk Loneliness’ campaign bringing together organisations such as The Marmalade Trust, the Co-op Foundation, the British Red Cross, the Campaign to End Loneliness, Mind, Public Health England and the Jo Cox Foundation to help people talk about their feelings. The campaign launched at the start of Loneliness Awareness Week and is designed to encourage everyone to start the conversation on loneliness by using #LetsTalkLoneliness across social media.
If you’re feeling lonely
There is absolutely no shame in sharing that you feel lonely. If the statistics are anything to go by, the likelihood is that the person you reach out to will have felt the same way. The old cliché of a problem shared is a problem halved really is true. Talking to a friend might spark some ideas about how to help alleviate your feeling of loneliness. It will make you feel less alone. If you’re not able to talk about it, try writing down how you feel. It’ll help you identify when the feeling started and how it impacts you.
Build meaningful connections
Loneliness and social isolation are two different things. Being socially isolated means that you don’t have access to human connections, which can be a cause of loneliness, but actually, the most connected people can still feel lonely. Loneliness is impacted by the quality of your connections with other people rather than the quantity. If you’re not getting what you need from your current connections, reach out to people who can offer a deeper connection. Perhaps through hobbies and interests, sports groups, online forums or professional services.
Feeling connected to something bigger than us helps us to feel happier and less alone. Not only is volunteering a great way to socialise with other people, but it’s also an opportunity to give back to the wider community and see the positive impact your actions can have. There are voluntary roles to suit everyone’s schedules and organisations welcome micro-volunteering from as little as an hour a month. To find an opportunity that works for you, check out do-it.org
Be good to yourself
Having a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising and getting enough sleep all positively impact how we feel about life. Loneliness can be triggered by big life changes such as bereavement, redundancy, relationship breakdown or childbirth, all of which can lead us to self-neglect, making our loneliness feel all-consuming. Our physical and mental health are interlinked, so do something each day that is good for your body and mind.
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