This week is Mental Health Awareness Week which highlights ‘loneliness’. One in four of us feel lonely at some point – or perhaps all the time. There are many reasons people feel lonely and there’s isn’t just one solution.
The longer we feel lonely, the more likely we are to have mental health problems – and some people are more at risk of feeling lonely than others. This year the Mental Health Foundation is raising awareness of the impact of loneliness and the steps we can take to tackle this problem, together.
Here are some coping strategies and advice on how to cope with loneliness and some tips on helping others.
Keeping busy is a great way to tackle loneliness. By taking up a hobby such as walking, running, going to the gym, gardening, arts and crafts, reading and art or even a one-off project such as decluttering, decorating or crafting will give you energy. The sense of achievement you will experience can boost your mood and make you feel some positivity. Choose something that doesn’t feel like a chore – sometimes working or even just watching TV can make you feel worse, so do something fulfilling.
The problem with working or watching TV to distract yourself is that it’s not stimulating enough. An audio book, podcast or even guided meditations will stimulate you and calm any negative thoughts. Podcasts are particularly good as the familiar voice of someone you admire can really help.
Exercise has been proven to boost your mood as well as your body. Even a walk in the park can help – you don’t need to join a gym and invest in specific clothes or trainers…just put on your comfy shoes and take yourself to the local park and take in the surroundings. If this feels like too much of a task put on some music and move around at home!
When we feel depressed and lonely, we tend to shut people out and hide away. This can actually make you feel worse in the long term. When you’re out walking, say hello with a smile to people you pass you by, chat to the person in the checkout by asking how their day is going…not only will you help yourself you will give others a lift too.
It’s hard to connect with other people when you feel lonely. Sometimes the only people who understand are those who have been in your position. Interacting with people on social media, chat rooms or in person can really help. You won’t be the only person who is feeling lonely.
A pet is an amazing way to alleviate loneliness and give you a purpose. They offer unconditional love, companionship, support and even a structure to our day. Dogs need to be walked which can be a good encouragement to get out. Pets reduce stress levels so if budget and lifestyle allows, consider this as an option. If you can’t afford a pet or work long hours, take a look at alternatives such as Borrow My Doggy which is a website whereby you can borrow/look after people’s pets either on a one-off or regular basis. If you have friends or family with dogs, offer to walk them or if they have a cat, offer to pop round and provide companionship if they are working. Even small animals such as guinea pigs or rabbits can provide companionship.
Social media doesn’t always help when you feel lonely. Remember that people post what they want people to see – great holidays, happy moments, exotic holidays and new purchases. This isn’t always the full picture, but it can make you feel like you’re failing in comparison. Find digital communities or groups that share interests and passions with you – and ‘unfollow’ (different to unfriending) people who you compare yourself to so that you aren’t presented with content that makes you feel negative.
Talk to a counsellor or therapist about how you feel. Finding a safe space can help you to work through your feelings and thoughts without fear of judgement. Visit the the NHS website.