Loneliness tells us we need meaningful social connection, something as critical to our wellbeing as the human behaviour of eating when hungry or drinking when thirsty.
I’ve become aware in the last month the reluctance in and out of the workplace; as Brené Brown writes in her latest book (Atlas of the Heart) we all feel shame around being lonely, as if feeling lonely means there’s something wrong with us. Even if this loneliness is caused by grief, loss, or heartbreak.
There is a stigma to how we have defined and described loneliness in our past – anyone who was the kid at school called the “loner” will recall this. It’s equated to shyness, being anti-social or lacking in our social skills.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, whilst we know it’s more than talking about it for a week, perhaps this week you can be brave enough to consider your own thoughts & feelings towards loneliness. How vulnerable have you been in being able to share with someone (your inner circle) when you have been feeling lonely?
In a representative sample of 1,200 people, a third of people say they are lonelier and sleeping less well than before the pandemic. This recent study also showed that nearly half are seeing friends less and leaving home less – no surprise this has a huge impact on both the mental and physical health of an individual. The context of someone who is lonely is not just reserved for the elderly or those who live alone. We can be lonely living with others or heading into work every day and sitting with our colleagues. It goes back to the meaningful interaction and connections that touch us throughout our day. There is limited research on the topic of loneliness, but we do know that it can have severe impacts on our physical health; Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010).
Some of the simple ways to reduce the impact of loneliness include the following activities…
- Volunteer (by giving back to others has been demonstrated to decrease loneliness and increase meaning and purpose)
- Get involved (join a club, get active in a sport, or participate in the local community)
- Learn something new in a group setting (take a course, join others with similar hobbies)
- Reconnect with friends and family (build those deep connections and your relationship with them)
One of the more difficult approaches to moving through those feelings of loneliness, is compassionately look at how you internalise those feelings. What is driving the loneliness? Any of the activities above to reduce loneliness will take time to connect with others, so how do sit with those feelings, is there someone you can reach out to if things become too much. Is it possible to look at developing small nudges towards feeling in a small way more positive?
And if you are not feeling lonely yourself? Well maybe today it’s an opportunity to send a text or an email to a friend or a colleague to connect in a meaningful way and be that meaningful connection for someone else. We forget that a small act of kindness, can have a big impact on someone else’s day.
Post by Ruth Cooper-Dickson.