In the Community Life Survey carried out by the government last year, 6% of respondents (approximately 3 million people in England) reported feeling lonely often or always. This reflects the findings of earlier surveys and highlights that we’re not getting less lonely as time goes on.
When supporting other people, we often talk about things that we can do to alleviate their loneliness. However, it’s still a subject we don’t talk about enough when it impacts us personally due to fear of stigma. I hope this column provides some simple and effective tools to help you support yourself or someone else to combat loneliness.
Talk to someone
When you feel lonely, you might think that no one will listen or care, but that’s not the case. Talking to someone will help, especially when you know them well and can reflect on positive memories together. This can boost your mental health and even help split a larger problem into smaller ones. For some people, due to the way loneliness makes them feel, they don’t want to talk to people they know and this must be respected. There are several befriending services (the two biggest in the UK are run by AGE UK and Silverline) that can offer face-to-face meetings, or telephone and video calls. Research has shown that talking provides stress relief and can lessen the anxiety you might be feeling.
Start a new hobby or join a local support group
Some people feel lonely because they don’t have anything to occupy them. Starting a new hobby or picking back up a hobby you used to love, can fill that void. It can give you a sense of purpose and help you to connect with people who share similar interests. Studies show that some popular hobbies for combatting loneliness are reading, music, knitting, crafting, cooking and art.
There are many support groups that you can join and just sit and listen until you are ready to talk and get involved. You might feel hesitant about joining a support group, but you might meet someone who will become a lifelong friend.
Get out and about
There’s nothing worse than sitting inside with only your thoughts for company, especially if you are feeling lonely! There are many things you can do like joining a club, going to the cinema, going for lunch or dinner, meeting friends or even just a gentle stroll around the local area. The key is to break the habit of sitting alone with your negative thoughts.
“Remember, when you next feel lonely, you are not alone.”
One of the great things about technology is that you can meet new people or reconnect with existing friends online from the comfort of your own home. Use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, try a chat room to connect with new people or explore hobbies and interests online.
If you want something physical in your home, you could try a robotic pet. They come in the form of cats, dogs, seals and more and are brilliant for people living with dementia. They have built-in sensors so that they know when someone is nearby or petting them and some can recognise words and voices.
I recently discovered friendship lamps that work by sending signals and messages to a friend’s lamp or changing it to a colour of your choice. Something simple but effective to remind people that you are thinking of them.
It’s important to remember that while technology can help to combat loneliness for some people, studies show that it can also increase loneliness for others. It’s important to balance the digital world with real life. Use technology to make your life easier and not to replace human interaction.
It’s ok to seek support
Some people who feel lonely will also feel depressed. If this is the case, it’s important to seek medical support from your local GP. It may be that you are referred for depression support or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help change your thought process and give you tools to cope.
Over the last few years, social prescribing within the NHS has supported thousands of people. Social prescribing is designed to focus on your wellbeing and signpost you to social groups, community events or befriending services. You can find out more here.
There’s a lot of emphasis on being with other people when you feel lonely, but it’s good to learn to be content with your own company too. Fill your free time with hobbies you enjoy such as gardening, watching a film or just relaxing.
Set small goals and don’t dwell
Don’t try to change everything at once, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Set small targets which you can easily achieve and celebrate. Don’t dwell on things that haven’t gone well and instead look forward. The NHS website states that we cannot change what has already happened and it’s important to focus time and energy on making yourself feel better.
Remember, when you next feel lonely, you are not alone. That feeling can hit any of us at any time and could be the start of you finding a new hobby, new friends, or a new venture in your life. Look for the positives and don’t dwell on what can’t be changed.