One of the feelings millions of us are experiencing during the current coronavirus pandemic is loneliness. In our combined efforts to stay safe and save lives, our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces have been put on pause.
Young people aged 18 to 24 are most likely to experience loneliness since the lockdown began. Before lockdown, one in six (16%) said they felt lonely. Since lockdown, young people are almost three times more likely to have experienced loneliness, with almost half (44%) feeling this way.
Many of us feel lonely from time to time and these short-term feelings shouldn’t harm our mental health. However, the longer the pandemic goes on for, the more these feelings become long-term.
Long-term loneliness is associated with an increased risk of certain mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and increased stress. The impact of long-term loneliness on mental health can be very hard to manage.
Remember, no one is exempt from feeling lonely at times. All of us, at some point or other during this coronavirus pandemic, will feel cut off from our loved ones. However, some of us will have greater access to technology than others, or more social connections.
By caring for each other, checking in on people who are more isolated, or even volunteering for a helpline, we can help prevent a loneliness epidemic.
If you live alone, it’s completely understandable if you’re finding being on your own tough right now. Loneliness can be a difficult emotion to sit with. And at a time like this when we naturally want to seek comfort from others, it can be harder still to deal with this feeling.
If you’re having a difficult day, try not to think or look too far ahead as this can feel overwhelming. Instead, try to concentrate on the next step – such as getting dressed or making a nice coffee mid-morning. Take things one small step at a time.
You might find it helps to allocate different spaces in your home to different purposes. The change of scenery for different activities can help divide and structure time as well as reduce feelings of being trapped inside.
Now that so many of us are now at home, the days can blur into one long stretch of time that feels difficult to fill, particularly over weekends or if you’re not working. Breaking your day up can help make everything seem a little more manageable.
Some people find it helps to make a plan for the next few hours and write it down. So, if you need to, try taking things hour by hour, moment by moment. You might find it helps you remember that you might not feel like this for the whole day and that things will change. And sometimes a day can end better than it started.
Feeling lonely isn't in itself a mental health problem, but the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem can increase your chance of feeling lonely.
For example, some people may have misconceptions about what certain mental health problems mean, so you may find it difficult to speak to them about your problems.
Or you may experience social phobia – also known as social anxiety – and find it difficult to engage in everyday activities involving other people, which could lead to a lack of meaningful social contact and cause feelings of loneliness.
Thinking about what is making you feel lonely may help you find a way of feeling better.
If you've felt lonely for a long time, even if you already know lots of people, it can be terrifying to think about trying to meet new people or opening up to people for the first time.
But you don't need to rush into anything.
Start off by going somewhere like a cafe, the cinema or a sports event where you can be around people, but not be expected to talk to them – you may find that simply being around other people is enough to help with your feelings of loneliness.
If you are feeling lonely because of a lack of satisfying social contact in your life, you could try to meet more, or different people.
· Try to join a class or group based on your hobbies or interests.
· If you are able to, volunteeringis a good way of meeting people.
· Talking therapies allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them.
For example, therapy can provide a space for you to discuss the emotional problems that make it hard for you to form satisfying relationships.
If anxiety about social situations has made you feel isolated, cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT may help. This focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour, and teaches you coping skills for dealing with different problems.
It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others. We all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside.
For example, on social media, we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely.
It's important to remind yourself that you don't know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off.
Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better.
Think about how some of the following are affecting how you feel and whether you can do anything to change them:
· Try to get enough sleep. Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel.
· Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels
· Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing, and some people find it helps improve their self-esteem.
· Spend time outside. Spending time in green space can help your wellbeing.
· Spend time with animals. Some people find spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through owning a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment.
We can all feel lonely at times but reaching out can be the shining beacon of light you’ve longed for, a conversation worth a thousand hugs or a familiar voice that frightens the darkness away.
You’ve got this.
Peace and Love to you all,