By Paul Abraham of www.headingonwards.com.
As we head towards winter, it is both interesting and concerning that loneliness is becoming more prolific throughout the country.
The “Campaign to End Loneliness” reported last year that over 9 million people in the UK are often or always lonely and over 1.2 million older people say they’re chronically lonely. As the days get colder and the clocks go back an hour, bringing dark nights earllier, these figure will rise even more.
As humans, we’re biologically designed to need relationships. When we look back at our ancestors, close community bonds were essential for survival.
Today, our modern lives may be vastly different, but our need for human connection hasn’t changed. Chronic loneliness is one of the most unhealthy things we can experience, with the Jo Cox Commission On Loneliness reporting it can be as harmful as smoking around 15 cigarettes a day.
Whether you’re feeling lonely due to the loss of a loved one or have felt gradually more isolated due to age, disability, closure of community groups or a lack of motivation, here are some strategies and tips which may help.
1. Acknowledge your feelings
When you’re lonely, the brain can interpret people’s behaviour differently, making it harder to read people and increasing our sensitivity. This can leave you feeling distrustful of others and assuming the worst about their intentions. Researchers found that when you feel lonely, you go into a self-preservation mode, which can lead to less positive interactions with the world.
Think about your last interactions with people. Were they negative or just neutral? Did you enter the situation assuming they don’t want you around or feeling like a burden? Break yourself out of these negative thoughts by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Before your next interaction, think of three things you’re grateful for. It will switch your mindset into a more positive way of thinking and help you feel more open.
2. Reach out
Close relationships with friends, family and spouses are the key to happiness and reduces the threat of loneliness. If you’ve lost touch with loved ones, now is the perfect time to reach out and reconnect. It can feel terrifying at first, but a simple call, message or letter can make you feel more positive. We all know how special it feels to hear from a friend or loved one and by getting in touch first, you’ll not only make them feel important, but are more likely to see that positivity and effort reciprocated.
3. Develop a plan for difficult times
Do particular days of the week, month or year become almost unbearable due to loneliness? If so, it’s time to make a plan. Anticipate these moments by scheduling in a call with family or friends or taking time out to read that book or magazine you been meaning to read or treat yourself to a relaxing bubble or aromatherapy soak. These little things can help distract us from negative thoughts and break up the day.
4. Take care of something
While having a pet can ease feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression, this isn’t possible for everyone. However if you have a garden or yard you could put tit-bits out for the wild birds that visit or looking after a plant can give you a purpose and something to talk to, if its good enough for Prince Charles then it’s good enough for you!
5. Create a routine
When you feel like you don’t have anything to get up for, your routine can go out the window, but it’s actually one of the most effective ways to cope with loneliness. Get into the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and plan your meals to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Try and factor in at least one social activity a week, such a contacting friends and family or spend an hour doing a favourite hobby. A routine can give you something to look forward to and helps keep you busy.