To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Regional Support Manager Amy Hansford, talks about this year’s theme: ‘Loneliness’.
It’s important to underline that loneliness is not just about being alone. It might be a bit of a cliché, but you can feel lonely in a room full of people. Loneliness is about the quality of the relationships and the connections you have with others, not just whether you have company or not.
It’s not always easy to forge close relationships in our modern society. More people are now living on their own than in previous generations thanks to the decline of the nuclear family and this has also contributed to people being more isolated than in the past. A lot of research has been carried out about the effects of loneliness in older people, but it isn’t a feeling exclusive to that age group as it cuts across all ages in society. The murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox, set up a commission on loneliness because of her experience of feeling isolated and lonely when she was a new mother and a study found that 80% of adolescents felt lonely at least sometimes. During the early stages of the pandemic a government survey found that those most at risk of being lonely were young people, so it can hit anyone.
Why is this important? Because loneliness is bad for your wellbeing and mental health. Research has found that it causes depression, increases your risk of dementia and makes you more likely to suffer from stress. Chronic stress caused by loneliness can also contribute to inflammation and cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and hypertension.
How to look after yourself
If you are feeling lonely and it has had an effect upon your general wellbeing, it might be hard to make positive steps to help yourself feel better. However, if you consider how some of the following might be affecting you, it may prompt you to think about seeing if you can change the less helpful ones and do more of the good ones.
Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel. If you’re refreshed after a good night’s sleep, you may feel better able to tackle things. If sleep is a problem for you, have a look at MIND’s hints on how to improve your sleep.
Eating healthily is always a good idea. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg is hugely beneficial in many ways. However, eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can also make a difference to your mood and energy levels. The NHS website has information on how to eat healthily.
Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. However, exercise doesn’t have to mean lung-busting, sweaty, marathon sessions at a gym. Walking also counts as exercise and it’s something most of us can incorporate into our day.
Spend time outside
If you’re going for a walk, why not try to make sure you do it somewhere that you can see trees and wildlife, such as a local park or along a river? Spending time in green space can help your wellbeing and induce a sense of calm, something that can benefit us all!
Spend time with animals
If you’re not allergic to them (poor you, if you are!) spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through owning a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment. Some towns and cities have community or city farms where you can go and spend time with the animals. Otherwise, most parks have birds and squirrels you can watch. The organisation Social Farms and Gardens has a list of outdoor community projects across the UK, many of which have animals available to the public.
Avoid drugs and alcohol
While it might be tempting to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings of loneliness, in the long run they don’t do anything to address the underlying problems. They’re really not the answer.
Learn to be comfortable with just your own company
Sometimes being on your own is good for you and being comfortable in your own company can be an acquired skill. Filling your time with activities and hobbies that interest you – and, importantly, appreciating the pleasure that these things give you – can help combat loneliness. Going to the cinema or a sports event on your own may not sound that much fun, but one 2015 study found that people frequently underestimate how much they enjoy their own company, so you might be surprised at how much you get out of it!
For more information on wellbeing Practice Plan members can access the Resource & Learning Hub with their Online Services account details via hub.practiceplan.co.uk
If you’re a member of Practice Plan but not set up on Online Services, please call 01691 684165.