Since the start of the coronavirus, with its limitations on mixing and face-to-face contact, naturally, more people report feeling lonelier and disconnected from one another.
But even before the pandemic, loneliness was a global issue affecting millions of people.
Around nine million people in the UK said they felt lonely, in a report by The Campaign to End Loneliness.
Now as the uncertainty of the current times continues, compounded by the darker days of winter, many people are facing more emotionally challenging times, including deeper loneliness and isolation.
‘During difficult times, it’s natural to want to pull together and support each other’, says Madeleine Gauffin, Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Psychotherapist at Livi.
There are lots of situations where most people would turn to friends and family for support, like after job loss or bereavement, Gauffin points out. ‘But current social restrictions are forcing people to fall back more on their own resources and not everyone is equipped for this.
‘If you’re feeling lonely and isolated, it can be easy to get things out of proportion, so fears and anxieties get even bigger,’ says Gauffin.
‘Most people feel lonely at times, but there are also certain life stages when you may be more likely to feel lonely, like after a divorce or moving to a new area,’ says Gauffin.
Loneliness and solitude — the key difference
For some people, not having to deal with social situations can be a relief. ‘Feeling lonely is not the same as being alone,’ says Gauffin. ‘You can be alone and feel perfectly content in solitude.’
Loneliness is the feeling that your needs for social connection aren’t being met. And it can happen not only to those who feel the lack of other people in their lives, but also to some people in relationships and communities where they don’t feel accepted and supported.
Research shows that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of developing a variety of physical and mental health conditions. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, addiction and a weakened immune system.
Here are some expert recommendations for dealing with increased loneliness during a more restricted festive season this year.
1. Meet up online
‘While there are some people who never want to attend another Zoom meeting again, if you can’t see friends or family in real life, it helps to make the effort to keep in touch with people in any way you can,’ says Gauffin.
Making a list of the people in your life can also help you to see more opportunities to connect with others, Gauffin suggests.
‘You can consider starting new networks, too, like an online book club. Or, arrange to have dinner with friends or family over the internet.’
2. Keep walking
A recent study has shown that even going for a walk on your own for at least 20 minutes a day can help to reduce feelings of loneliness. ‘When you’re outdoors, your world opens up,’ says Gauffin.
‘You see nature and other people, and this is a good distraction away from your own thoughts. If you can’t see people indoors, going for a walk or a hike with a friend is a good way to connect.’ Find out more about the benefits of walking.
3. Maintain a healthy daily routine
Create a daily routine,’ says Gauffin. ‘Get up at the same time, have breakfast, do some work, have lunch, go for a walk and schedule in meetings and phone calls.
‘This will stop you from falling out of sync with your natural circadian rhythms. If you’ve got things to do and look forward to, it will help you to feel less lonely.’
4. Focus on things that make you feel better
‘Ask yourself — “What do I need right now? What do I need to take care of myself better?”’ says Gauffin.
‘Even if you’re on your own, there’s no reason why you can’t prepare a lovely meal for yourself, or do an hour of yoga or meditation. Remind yourself that you’re not the only one feeling lonely.’
5. Get professional help
If you’re stressed, anxious or you’ve had a low mood for longer than 2 weeks, or nothing you do seems to be helping, a Livi GP can help.
‘Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychotherapist,’ says Gauffin. ‘It could be that lockdown is bringing up issues related to experiences in your past. Also, don’t hesitate to call a helpline if you feel lonely.’
To contact the Samaritans, visit: www.samaritans.org or call 116 123.
This article has been approved by Madeleine Gauffin, Licensed Psychologist and Licensed Psychotherapist at Livi.