Loneliness is about much more than being on your own. In fact, studies suggest that being on your own is not in the top five causes of loneliness. Number one on most expert’s scales is the loneliness caused by feeling you are isolated in the way you feel. Being isolated by worries about not paying bills, managing other people when you feel you can hardly manage breakfast, or anxious about a future you cannot predict.
If you are in or verging on a heightened state of anxiety it is all you need to hear that health and mental health risks associated with loneliness increase by a factor of between three and five in moments of national crisis; you know, if she can’t deal with what is going on what chance do I stand?
At the risk of making you feel a tad worse before offering advice about how to deal with how you feel, consider that the anxiety caused by this period of self-isolation and complex social uncertainty heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol abuse disorder. Researchers in the US also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
The loneliness that can occur during life transitions such as losing your job, not being able to pay bills, or the death of a loved one is referred to by researchers as reactive loneliness. Chronic loneliness is then most likely to set in when individuals either don’t have the emotional, mental or financial resources to get out and satisfy their social needs, or they lack a social circle that can provide these benefits. For many of us this social circle is provided by the workplace; having things in common with those around us, including routines and things to moan about.
So how can we deal with this? Are there things we can do? There are probably twelve things that you can do, but you won’t read on if this blog goes on until Wednesday, so take these top four for now:
1 Topping and Tailing the Day with Things You Enjoy
Psychologists sometimes call this ‘taking time’. As in, making room in your diary for you. You are raising ‘you’ and your mental health on the agenda.
This can include something very straightforward, such as spending 30 minutes in the morning (and evening) as part of the ‘new normal’ we are going to be hearing a lot about in the upcoming months sitting and reading, or in the garden (if such you have) or emptying your head of all thoughts.
It could be that you have a treat first thing in the morning and last thing at night which you recognise as such when enjoying it and ‘wrap yourself around it’ whilst enjoying it, making the treat the centre of your thinking at that moment.
2 Look After Your Body
Again, for 30 minutes twice a day become focused on the one thing you can rely upon; you and your body. This does not have to be exercise (although there are loads of things you can do at home which can be watched online which you would never normally do, but which will make you feel so much better after just 10 minutes of doing it), it can be making three great decisions about what you put into your body each day.
For example, drinking a litre of luke warm water in the morning (instead of two cups of coffee), eliminating carbs from your evening meal, cutting out sugar and stimulants in one of three meals, or three in six drinks, etc. Having a handful of nuts rather than a bag of crisps, drinking pure lemon with water when you eat to enhance your insulin response yada yada ya.
3 Stay Connected
Call people rather than messaging them and, when you speak, don’t fixate on ‘the situation’, ‘the news’ or ‘the economy’. Talk about something else, ask twice as many questions of them as making statements about you and how you feel.
In a similar vein, if someone demonstrates signs of depression one of the first things psychologists recommend is to stop looking online. Stop seeking information that increases stress. Reach outside for others, rather than inside for how you feel.
4 Focus on the Present
One of the greatest things you can get out of the times in which we are living is a reconnection with the centre of yourself.
One of the best ways to do this is to engage in mindfulness. Spending 30 minutes with ‘you’, the real you, not the manic, worried out of control you is an immensely rewarding experience.
There is so much you can do online, for free. Easy stuff. Not wizardry or bizarre ‘Made in California’ type stuff. You can start with something simple, such as this …
… and then, if you don’t turn into a goat within a fortnight, move on a little to this
Just 30 minutes a day to reclaim yourself, reduce anxiety and regain control of the new you for the new normal? Why wouldn’t you?