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Coping with Loneliness this Mental Health Awareness Week

Written by Katharine Anderson from our Assessment and Therapy Team.

“Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health so we find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness” – Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

Every year, The Mental Health Foundation hosts Mental Health Awareness Week. The consensus of the week is to bring mental health to the forefront of people’s minds and consider not only how we can support our own mental health, but also that of those around us – our friends, families, colleagues, and those in our wider community.

“Loneliness is the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want. That means it can be different for all of us”.

Loneliness has been a silent response to isolation throughout human history, but in recent years, and especially given what we have lived through since the onset of Covid in early 2020, reports of experiencing loneliness have increased. Loneliness is not only common among the elderly, but among young people, those who are middle-aged, and even amongst people in busy, lively families. Loneliness is a feeling which has been found to impact the way in which one is able to self-regulate, with enduring loneliness being found to weaken willpower and perseverance, which may culminate in negative coping strategies. Loneliness is something we will all feel from time to time and under different circumstances. Often experiences of loneliness are very normal. However, if loneliness is chronic or long-term, it may have a detrimental impact on mental health.

Covid brought a whole new meaning to the word loneliness. Connections with others were severed overnight, and everyday relationships were interrupted or broken. The intensity of this experience varied, but as a collective, we can all understand how and why loneliness was experienced. As we navigate living with Covid in a new way, there are questions being asked about how we can reduce the impact of loneliness, and support those who are still experiencing or even suffering from such feelings.

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Tips for managing loneliness

What works for some may not work for others, and often with loneliness, there needs to be a personal drive to challenge the feelings that may contribute to isolation. However, what is promising is that there is plenty that can be done to combat loneliness.

  • Try to talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling. If you find it too difficult to speak to someone you know, how about accessing a therapist or peer support service?
  • Consider joining a group or class which is focused or orientated around something you enjoy. Many groups are run online too, which may be a good starting point for those who still require the supporting comforts of their own home.
  • Visit places where you can be around other people, such as at a park, a café, or at a cinema. Another option is to try volunteering – there are always organisations looking for support and help from others – and often these are social environments too.
  • Try not to do too much too soon – set small targets which are easily achievable. Write these down and tick them off as you complete them to validate and revel in your successes.
  • Focus on things you can change rather than the things you cannot. If we focus on the latter, it may be much harder to experience a sense of achievement.
  • Try to limit time you spend on social media if this is triggering for you. Remember that social media posts largely celebrate the highs – the lows are much less visible.
  • Look after yourself. Try and maintain the basics to support your general wellbeing:
    • Try to get enough sleep.
    • Think about your diet. Are you eating regularly and getting plenty of vitamins and minerals through the food you are consuming? Are you drinking plenty of water? Can you reduce your caffeine intake too if this has increased?
    • Try to do some physical activity. Moving our bodies releases feel-good endorphins and can increase self-esteem.
    • Spend time outside. Getting out in nature can support wellbeing for a whole variety of reasons, including increasing connectivity, providing an outlet, a different environment, and vitamin D from the sunshine. Visit a local park, lake, green space or whatever is available—going for a walk in nature ticks off the physical activity necessity too.

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You can find out more about Mental Health Awareness Week by visiting The Mental Health Foundation Website.

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