Ahead of Time to Talk Day tomorrow, the concept of speaking about mental health worries and communicating rather than bottle feelings up is really important.
According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe, with many Brits unlikely to know their neighbours or feel they have friendships that they believe they can rely on in a crisis.
Research by the charity, Relate, found that 9% of Brits of all ages don’t have a single close friend, while separately, a study by AXA PPP healthcare that British adults aged 18 to 24 are four times as likely to feel consistently lonely than those over 70.
In addition to this, “the build-up to days like Valentine’s Day and the day itself can be quite intense, which is difficult for those who are already feeling isolated or lonely,” explains Eugene Farrell, Head of Trauma Support Services at AXA PPP healthcare.
“Although loneliness is often associated with the elderly, it’s actually an issue which can affect the physical and mental wellbeing of people of all ages.”
“In fact, studies have found that loneliness can increase the risk of high blood pressure, and have an impact on cognitive decline, dementia and depression. While addressing your experience of loneliness may take time, taking steps to build new and improve existing connections will help to improve your overall wellbeing.”
Here, Eugene gives his top tips on how to overcome feelings of loneliness:
1. Making new connections can be an obvious way to combat loneliness and yield positive results, for example joining a group or class you are interested in will increase your chances of meeting like-minded people to connect with. Increasingly too we are turning to the internet for companionship, with community groups existing in almost every niche interest group you could imagine.
2. Be more open. If you feel that you have plenty of connections but don’t feel close to any of them, the underlying issue may be that you need to open up to them more to deepen your connection, as an example letting the friend or acquaintance in on a vulnerability felt or your honest opinion about an issue.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others. The desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is not a new one, however the rise of social media has only exacerbated the problem by giving individuals the chance to constantly compare themselves to others. If you’re already feeling lonely, the idea that everyone else’s life is more idyllic than yours can make you feel even more isolated and alone. This can lead us to ‘compare and despair’ – which further exacerbates our negative experiences. Remind yourself that people only share what they want others to see about their lives. Don’t form unrealistic expectations about life and friendship based on what you see online.
4. Keep all lines of communication open. Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them. Or you can stay connected with loved ones online. Video chat, exchange photos and keep up to date with the latest news from friends and family with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or simply keep in contact by email.
5. Volunteering is also a great way to meet new people and feel good about helping others. It will not only allow you to give something back to your community but will also help you to feel more connected, involved and needed. There are lots of volunteering roles that need your skills and experience. It can also have a positive effect upon your mental health through helping others.
6. Pride comes before a fall. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help, companionship or just a chat. They may be feeling lonely too!
7. Take it slow. If you’ve felt lonely for a while, or experience anxiety around new social situations, throwing yourself in at the deep end could only act to exacerbate the problem. Instead, dip your toes into the water first by going to a local café or sports event where you are surrounded by people, and just enjoy sharing their company. Or try a class where you can dive into the activity itself to distract you from the pressure of introducing yourself to people straight away. With loneliness, slow and steady often wins the race.
If you think you might be struggling with symptoms of loneliness, find more tips and advice at AXA PPP healthcare’s Mental Health Centre.