This week is Loneliness Awareness Week. Loneliness is a feeling we get when our need for social contact with others is not met and can leave us with a feeling of emptiness. People often feel the need to be connected to others, but their state of mind may make it difficult to form these connections. Loneliness can affect all of us at some point in our lives, and how we view and perceive loneliness is different for each person. This suggests to me that there are lots of ways to tackle loneliness and it is important to understand individual support needs that work for us.
While we all may have experienced feelings of loneliness, talking to others and admitting feeling lonely is much more difficult. A study suggests that women are more likely to express loneliness than men. We desperately need to normalise sharing our thoughts and feelings and also to remember that difficult feelings including thoughts of loneliness can pass with the right support and connections around you.
Loneliness can have a detrimental impact on overall health and wellbeing and there is a significant increase of risk of disease burden and mortality rates associated with loneliness. This is having a huge impact on demand for services and on NHS waiting lists. Finding new ways to self-manage is of the highest importance.
There is no defined reason people experience loneliness as each person’s experience is different. We can experience loneliness even when we are in contact with people on a daily basis. Many life events, lifestyle changes and experiences can make us feel lonely. Understanding how to manage and navigate these can be beneficial in tackling loneliness.
Having lived in London for 10 years prior to moving to Wales, I personally experienced the feeling of loneliness even in a big city with many people around me, I still felt alone. I remember my first year living there and getting on the tube and not one person made eye contact or even smiled at me. It felt strange and scary and at times I felt very isolated.
I decided I needed to change my behaviour in order to improve my own wellbeing and I started by trying to make eye contact with people and smile. This was met with a few strange looks, although I found that it was welcomed by many others, and some even engaged in conversation. I continued to adopt this new behaviour and soon felt less isolated and lonely, and I remember how much it would brighten up my day when a smile was reciprocated.
This gave me a whole new perspective on the feeling of loneliness as I had realised that on some days these people I came into contact with had been the only people I had spoken to that whole day. What I understand now is that the smallest of acts can prevent you from feeling alone, lonely or isolated.
The first step to tackling loneliness is to acknowledge and talk about this with someone. There are so many ways of receiving support when we’re feeling lonely, and it is important to remember even though you may feel it, that you are not alone!
Connecting with others is just one of the ways to reduce the feeling of loneliness and this could be as simple as picking up the phone and chatting with a friend or a family member. There are also lots of befriending services that offer phone calls and 1:1 confidential chat lines for those who live in extreme isolation.
Joining a group is a good way to meet new people as well as engage in the things you enjoy doing. Personally I love walking and being out in nature so I found a group that fitted my ability and was an excellent way to improve wellbeing and my feelings of loneliness. This also improved my fitness which supported my energy and motivation levels further supporting my mind and improving thought processes.
Talking to others about how we feel can help reduce the feeling of loneliness. This also gives you an opportunity to understand that you are not alone and many people have experienced similar feelings and may be able to give ideas and advice on what helped them in the past. It also highlights that our thoughts and feelings are usually a natural response to daily life stresses of life and we all experience them. Sharing also helps us to connect with others and gives us a sense of belonging and purpose.
Look out for others and make an effort to connect with those that might feel isolated or lonely. This could be the next door neighbour or someone sat at the bus stop alone. You may be the first person to speak to them that day or even all week and this simple act has helped someone else feel less lonely. Try this by simply speaking to the person serving in your local shop or supermarket this will help to build you confidence when talking to new people.
The WISE team understand the importance of maintaining social connection to reduce loneliness and to improve health and wellbeing. Social connection is one of our holistic approaches which we explore and we have a range of services that will enable you to engage with others and make new social connections and start to find your own ways to manage feelings of loneliness.
For further information please email: CTM.WISE@wales.nhs.uk or call us on 01685 351 451/01685 351 444. Visit our Mental Health section on our website at: https://ctmuhb.nhs.wales/wise-ctm/our-service/mental-wellbeing/
Author: Sally Pisani