Looking at loneliness

When working from home started in March 2020, many people enjoyed the novelty of not commuting to work and the extra time at home that this new way of life gave them. A year on, and for many, the novelty is a distant memory.

Commuting and working with a team of people provides social interaction as well as employment. Reducing people’s opportunities to mix with other human beings to virtual meetings held over video conferencing software has been associated with an increase in the number of people experiencing feelings of loneliness. In addition, the social activities that people enjoyed outside work are also no longer possible, adding to the lonely existence that so many now live every day.

Loneliness is different to being alone. Being on your own can be an enjoyable experience – an opportunity to read a book without interruption or appreciate peace and quiet whilst having a long soak in the bath. Loneliness can be experienced during long periods of being alone, but also when with other people. A single person living in a shared house with others they don’t know very well can experience as much loneliness as someone who lives entirely alone. People have different abilities to cope with being alone too. Some really enjoy spending time on their own, whilst for others, mixing with other people socially is vital for their survival.

It is well known that loneliness can be caused by mental health conditions. The stigma that so often surrounds poor mental health means that people often feel reluctant to share their struggles with their mental health, for fear of being ignored by others who don’t want or know how to talk to them about their condition. But loneliness can also cause mental health conditions. People who experience loneliness are at an increased risk of developing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and increased stress.

If you’re struggling with loneliness, there are things that you can do to help. It’s important to recognise that different ideas will work better for different people and you don’t have to rush into trying them all. Look through the list here and think about what might help you:

  • Get active- make the most of the opportunity to get out in the fresh air every day for a walk, run or cycle ride. Seeing other people out and about and saying ‘hello’ as you pass is just a small connection, but it can make a big difference.
  • Spot nature- wherever you live, this is a great time of the year to watch nature waking from her winter slumber. Look out for signs of spring whilst you’re outside - spring flowers are appearing on a daily basis and the birds are chattering more in the trees. You could start a diary of what you spot each day as a record of your outings.
  • Join an online community- during normal times, joining a club or group linked to an interest is a great way to connect with people who have a shared interest with you. Lots of these groups have now created on-line versions - have a look to see what’s available for your interests - art, reading, family history, Bridge. If you’re nervous, you could contact the administrator and ask if you could watch the first session to see if it’s right for you before signing up.
  • Find a support group- one of the positives from the past year is that so many more people are aware of the importance of supporting our mental health. There are now lots of support groups on-line, where individuals experiencing the same feelings can connect, share their stories and offer ideas to help each other. Talking to someone else who is also experiencing loneliness can help you to feel less alone. Side-by-side is a national online community that has been set up by the mental health charity Mind. DepressionUK has a pen friend scheme, where individuals with depression can exchange letters to support each other. Have a look and see what kind of support scheme you would like to be involved with.
  • Take care with social media- whilst social media offers an opportunity to stay in touch with what others are doing, remember that the photos and comments are often an edited version of reality. Don’t compare your life to others as what they’re choosing to share is likely to be a poor reflection of what’s actually happening in their lives. Many people are struggling with life right now, so be careful how much time you spend on social media and think about whether it is helpful or harmful to how it makes you feel.
  • Don’t forget phone calls- we spend so much time video calling and text chatting with people these days that the simple act of making an old-fashioned telephone call has been forgotten. Hearing a familiar voice at the end of the phone can be a really uplifting experience - especially if it’s someone who has known you for a long time and can share old stories with you. Be organised and make time to chat to old friends regularly - or write them a letter, another much loved, but long forgotten gesture that can open up communication and help us feel connected to other human beings.

Remember, if you’re experiencing loneliness you are not alone. Many people have encountered feelings of loneliness over the past 12 months. It is a real feeling and it is important to acknowledge rather than hide from how it is making you feel. Have a go at a few of our suggestions and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support.