We all feel lonely sometimes. A survey conducted by the charity Campaign to End Loneliness found that over nine million people in the UK say they are always or often lonely. That’s a fifth of the population. Two thirds of the population said they wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting it if they were.
There can be many factors as to why people experience loneliness: a break-up, moving to a new city, even just sitting on the train every morning, surrounded by people staring at their phones can make you feel alone in a crowd of people. None of us are immune from time to time.
COVID-19 has exacerbated feelings of loneliness by physically isolating us from the people and things that bring us comfort. We can’t hug the people we want to, or feel the warmth of a chat with a shop worker, or have a laugh in the work kitchen like we used to. There’s grandparents missing their grandchildren, friends missing hugs, and a million other big and small acts of connection that we’re going without.
So how do we start to battle the loneliness that this time is bringing?
Acts of kindness
Psychologists have suggested several ways to help combat this during lockdown, and perhaps one of the most interesting suggestions is performing acts of kindness. The Mental Health Foundation has researched the effect that doing good for others has on us. They found that helping others:
- might promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness
- can improve our support networks, which can improve our self-esteem
- creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation, through volunteering or making news friends by helping out in your community
- helps keep things in perspective, and give you a more positive outlook of your own life
- helps make the world a happier place, as it may encourage others to pass on a good dead
We’ve seen the viral videos of acts of connection and kindness during this strange time from around the world: italian communities all singing together, a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film being projected onto the side of an apartment building where we can see a couple dancing in their kitchen, musicians streaming themselves singing, pub owners donating their hotel rooms to the homeless or self-isolating, people going on dates while distancing. But not every act of kindness needs to go viral, nor does it need to be extravagant.
Organise a whatsapp group for your street
A printed flyer through the doors on your street with a QR code or a phone number for everyone to add means that you can check in on anyone self-isolating, sick or elderly, ask for help, swap puzzles and games, talk about recipes, and more. It’s an amazing way to feel a part of your community, make new friends, help out and be helped out by your neighbours.
The weekly 8pm clapping sessions are sometimes debated, but whatever your position on them, it’s a nice opportunity to stand near your neighbours, wave, and have a chat.
Now more than ever, local charities need people to chip in and support the vulnerable or less fortunate in their communities. Whether it’s official, or just asking a neighbour who can’t get to the shops if they need anything, going out of your way to help can make both you and the person you’re helping feel worthwhile. The Mental Health Foundation has compiled a list of useful organisations and information for volunteering.
Taking time for yourself
Rather than view this time as enforced separation from the world, by shifting your perspective it can become a great opportunity for self-reflection, growth and learning.
Talking to the BBC, Professor Stephanie Cacioppo, who works in behavioural neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Chicago, said that she believed that adjusting your mindset was one of the most powerful ways someone can combat their feelings of loneliness. Remembering that this is temporary, that it will pass, is part of adjusting that mindset.
Professor Stephanie Cacioppo
The time could be spent investing in yourself. Where we might once have been busy making plans weeks in advance, we now have to face the fact that we will probably be within the same four walls we’re in now - and that can be a gift, if you’ve been wanting to tackle something that takes solitude and time. So often in our busy lives many of us have longed for the time to read books, watch a tv series, study a language or an instrument. This wealth of time is exactly what a lot of us have now.
The most obvious ways to connect with those that we cannot see physically is online, or in video calls. This can be a vital way to keep relationships healthy and strong. Whether it’s texting, phoning, or video calling, knowing that the people you love and care for are still as much a part of your life now you can’t see them is so important.
You could organise an activity for the call:
Some friends and families are choosing recipes, emailing them around and then cooking the same food at the same time.
A pub quiz that someone researches and puts together for everyone else to take part in is a great way to spend an evening. Likewise, any game you all own can be played remotely online, and many don’t need boards or equipment at all - 20 questions, pictionary, bingo, and so many more.
If you do manage to make a start on that pile of books that have been patiently gathering dust for months (or years!), a book club with friends and family is a great way to encourage you to persevere with reading, and to get into interesting conversations. Many books have suggestions for book club questions if you search for them online.
Whether it’s as simple as all turning up in fancy dress to the video call, or turned into a game where someone calls out a theme and everyone has 10 minutes to get ready, it can be a fun, silly way to spend time with friends.
If you’re mindful of the environment staying positive, talking to people with a shared interest online can be a great way to connect. There’s a group for any interest if you look for them. From niche films and books, to hobbies, to politics or news and a million more, there will be like minded people discussing it on the internet. Facebook, twitter, reddit, tumblr, as well as boards dedicated to just one topic: the social media opportunities for connecting with people are virtually limitless.
If you’re lonely, just acknowledging that fact to your friends and family can start to take the weight off the feeling. As the Campaign to End Loneliness study showed, ⅔ of the UK don’t feel they’d ever admit to it, but what is there to lose? Everyone is in the same boat now, and your loved ones are your loved ones for a reason. Open up, allow others to open up, and feel the warmth of the connection that vulnerability can bring.
The list goes on. From teaching each other a craft, to a music night where you all share your favourite songs and talk about them, to just a regular old chat about life, the power of being able to see the people in your life can help greatly.
How to get help
Whatever your circumstance, if you’re feeling cut off, know that now more than ever people are experiencing isolation and loneliness right along with you. You are not alone, not even in your sadness. If you find that it’s getting too much to cope with, we’ve listed some numbers below for helplines that you can call. Don’t suffer in silence - reach out to a friend, a family member, or a charity. You’re an important part of the world that you live in, and shouldn’t have to experience loneliness, alone. If it’s a life-threatening emergency, always call 999.
Mind - Offers callers confidential advice. The organisation also campaigns for better mental health services around the country. Helpline: 0300 123 3393
The Mix - Offers support for anyone aged 13 to 25 with any sort of challenge – from mental health to money, break-ups to drugs, finding a job to homelessness. Helpline: 0808 808 4994
The Samaritans - A 24/7 helpline for anyone who wants someone to listen without judgment or pressure. You can also train to become a volunteer. Helpline: 116 123
The Silver Line - A free helpline for older people across the UK is open every day and every night. Helpline: 0800 470 80 90
Re-engage - Re-engage helps older people reconnect with their communities though regular face-to-face meetings, providing a lifeline of friendship. Helpline: 0800 716543
Age UK - Age UK (the joint project of Age Concern and Help the Aged) aims to combat loneliness through its befriending service. Helpline: 0800 169 6565
Way – Widowed and Young - The Way Foundation is the only national charity in the UK for men and women aged 50 or under who have lost their partner.
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