We may be living in the most connected century the world has seen, but loneliness is more prolific than ever. The Campaign to End Loneliness reported that over 9 million people in the UK are often or always lonely and over 1.2 million older people say they’re chronically lonely.
As humans, we’re biologically designed to need relationships. When we look back at our ancestors, close community bonds were essential for survival. Today, our modern lives may be vastly different, but our need for human connection hasn’t changed. Chronic loneliness is one of the most unhealthy things we can experience, with the Jo Cox Commission On Loneliness reporting it can be as harmful as smoking around 15 cigarettes a day.
Whether you’re feeling lonely due to the loss of a loved one or have felt gradually more isolated due to age, disability or as a carer, break out of the cycle of loneliness with our strategies and tips.
Strategy 1: Acknowledge your feelings
When you’re lonely, the brain can interpret people’s behaviour differently, making it harder to read people and increasing our sensitivity. This can leave you feeling distrustful of others and assuming the worst about their intentions. The neuroscience researcher John Cacioppo, found that when you feel lonely, you go into a self-preservation mode, which can lead to less positive interactions with the world.
Think about your last interactions with people. Were they negative or just neutral? Did you enter the situation assuming they don’t want you around or feeling like a burden? Break yourself out of these negative thoughts by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Before your next interaction, think of three things you’re grateful for. It will switch your mindset into a more positive way of thinking and help you feel more open.
Strategy 2: Reach out
Close relationships with friends, family and spouses are the key to happiness, according to a Harvard Study of Adult Development. If you’ve lost touch with loved ones, now is the time to reach out and reconnect. It can feel terrifying at first, but a simple call, message or letter can make you feel more positive. We all know how special it feels to hear from a friend or loved one and by getting in touch first, you’ll not only make them feel important, but are more likely to see that positivity and effort reciprocated.
Strategy 3: Make new connections
Making new friends is a great way to cope with chronic loneliness. If you’re able to get out and about, why not join a local group or class? From tea mornings to craft groups, they’re a great way to enjoy some face-to-face contact and build your confidence. Remember that most people will be at these groups for the reason as you – to enjoy some company – so try not to put too much pressure on yourself. If you’re unable to leave the house, an online group can be a great way to meet like-minded people.
Strategy 4: Develop a plan for difficult times
Do particular days of the week, month or year become almost unbearable due to loneliness? If so, it’s time to make a plan. Anticipate these moments by scheduling in a call with family or friends, attending a class, volunteering at a local charity or asking someone over for a cup of tea. These little things can help distract us from negative thoughts and break up the day.
Strategy 5: Get a pet
While having a pet might not be realistic for everyone, owning a dog has been linked to lower mortality rates in single person households and can ease feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. Service dogs can also be a great help around the house and can even be trained to anticipate seizures before they happen. If a dog seems like too much of a tie, consider adopting a cat, or volunteering at an animal shelter to help you meet new people and feel more fulfilled.
Strategy 6: Create a routine
When you feel like you don’t have anything to get up for, your routine can go out the window, but it’s actually one of the most effective ways to cope with loneliness. Get into the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time each day and plan your meals to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Try and factor in at least one social activity a week, such a joining a local class, volunteering or making plans with friends and family. A routine can give you something to look forward to and helps keep you busy.
Loneliness is something that everyone feels at one time or another and you don’t have to cope alone. Explore some useful resources below:
- Age UK – Advice and information for the elderly
- Carers UK – Support for carers
- Meetup – local meetups in your area
- Elecare – A friendly online community ran by Mind
- Contact The Elderly – A charity organising social meet-ups for the over 75s
If you or your loved ones are often alone, find out how our Telecare services can give you peace of mind.