Have you ever felt lonely?
If loneliness is something that you have experienced, like so many of us, then you will understand how difficult that feeling of isolation can be.
There are more humans alive today than ever before, and we are supposedly more connected than we have ever been, yet all over the world, people are feeling lonely. Even before the global pandemic, a sweeping meta-analysis across 113 countries identified the harrowing extent of the loneliness that is experienced by so many people.
Loneliness is a significant public health issue and reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.
We can, of course, feel lonely for lots of different reasons, and we could find ourselves feeling lonely and isolated even when we are surrounded by people because there is a lack of meaningful connection. Have you ever experienced this? I know I have.
It is helpful to understand that loneliness is not necessarily about being alone because sometimes we may appreciate a period of solitude and feel perfectly happy just being in our own company. Times of solitude can be nourishing and help us to relax and recharge.
Feeling lonely is more about our perception of being disconnected and isolated from others and is fundamentally about our emotional state of mind.
As human beings we were not designed to be solitary creatures for too long and we evolved to survive in tribes so the need to interact is deeply ingrained in our genetic code. Our relationships and our communities are fundamental to supporting our wellbeing and we need to explore ways to tackle this epidemic of loneliness.
Here are 10 suggestions of ways that can help us all to feel less lonely…
1. Remember that you are not entirely alone
When we feel lonely it is helpful to remind ourselves that we are never entirely alone because we are all part of an inextricable web of connections. By being present and looking upwards and outwards we can begin to identify and focus on all the different ways that we are surrounded, connected and supported.
2. Listen to the radio or a podcast
Listening to the radio is a great way to feel connected and opens us up to hearing conversations that can help us to be more emotionally attached to the world. Listening to people chatting in the background whilst we potter about can make an empty and potentially lonely room feel more alive. Podcasts can also help us through low moments by providing some laughter and thought-provoking insights and perspectives.
3. Do something kind for someone else
One of the kindest things we can do for another human being is to help them feel less lonely. To be truly happy, humans need intimate bonds and to be able to confide in each other and feel supported. One small act of kindness can make a huge impact on someone else’s life. When people feel lost and lonely, kind actions help restore faith in humanity and in turn can bring hope to entire communities. This could start with a simple smile or a caring conversation.
4. Read a book
Reading has a unique way of connecting us to people and stories we might never have otherwise encountered. Various research has indicated that reading enhances our empathy and ability to understand our own and others’ identities. Stories can take us on great adventures and, as Walt Disney once remarked, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and, best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”
5. Start a conversation with someone new
Be curious, because everyone you meet in your life will have their own unique story to tell. Starting a conversation with someone you have never met before can be fascinating and helps us to expand our world view. I have had plenty of interesting conversations with people who I have met on trains and even made new friends that way!
6. Join a social club or group
One of the best ways to meet other people and become connected is to join a social club or group. Whether it’s a book club, learning to dance, joining a choir, playing chess or bridge, having a knit and natter or playing sport…the list is endless. There are so many opportunities out there.
When I first came to live in Cheltenham, I didn’t know anyone, so I set up a writing group who I now refer to as my tribe and I would be lost without them and they are an eternal source of comfort and inspiration!
7. Take up a new hobby
Hobbies that we love doing can have a very positive impact on the way that we feel and boost our overall mood and wellbeing. Whether we enjoy crafting, painting, collecting, cooking or getting green-fingered in the garden, any kind of purposeful and pleasurable activity will provide a useful distraction from those feelings of loneliness.
8. Reconnect with people from your past
For many reasons we may well lose contact with people from our past who we have shared special experiences with that have bonded us to them. Making the effort to reconnect and rekindle those relationships can be so rewarding. Meeting an old friend after a long time and feeling like nothing has changed can be one of life’s truly joyful experiences.
9. Do some volunteering
Volunteering presents us with an opportunity to get involved in something we care deeply about, meet like-minded people, and see the results of our input. It provides us with a deep sense of purpose in the knowledge that we are contributing to making the world a better place.
Volunteering is also a scientifically proven mood-booster because of the physiological as well as psychological effects of altruism on the body that charitable acts trigger. This is commonly known as the ‘helper’s high’.
10. Reach out and get support
If we feel that loneliness is affecting our lives and having a negative impact on our wellbeing, then reaching out to get some support is important.
It takes courage to ask for help and there is a lot of support out there. Reaching out to a friend, family member, work colleague, health professional or counsellor is something we all may need to do from time to time. This journey called life can at times be challenging for everyone, and it is important to remember that we are all on it and in it together.
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