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Loneliness – How Does Isolation Affect Us?

Many of us have spent the duration of COVID feeling alone, unable to see our friends and peers in person. This Blue Monday, we look at how loneliness can affect us and what we can do to assist those who are vulnerable without a support network.

Who is most affected by loneliness?

Loneliness can affect anyone at any time due to circumstance, but some people are much more likely to be consistently isolated over a long period.

People suffering from disabilities or chronic illness may be unable to develop a network of peers due to inability to engage in the social scene in the same way, leading to a lack of support and friendship.

“People with a limiting long-term illness or disability were more likely to say they felt lonely often/always than those without (15% compared with 4%) and less likely to say they never felt lonely (12% compared with 22%).”

GOV.uk

Mental illness can also often leave people isolated – social withdrawal can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, and other mental issues. Loneliness can also, in itself, lead to depression, leading to a cycle that can be hard to get out of.

Retirement or being out of work can also lead to feeling alone, as you no longer have the social contacts of being a part of a workplace. This can also happen to stay-at-home parents and, often most prevalently, the elderly.

A person covers their face whilst looking at a phone. Loneliness can cause mental health issues.
Loneliness can cause mental health issues.

What does loneliness do to us?

Long-term loneliness can lead to health problems, both mental and physical.

For example, in terms of physical health, loneliness can lead to dependencies on alcohol or drugs, leading to further associated health problems. Lonely adults may be less physically active than others. Loneliness can increase stress and fatigue and cause things such as memory issues, difficulty learning, and even progression in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

From a mental health standpoint, loneliness can cause feelings of depression and emptiness. It can lead to social anxiety and difficulty making connections, leading to further isolation. It can also lead to low self-esteem and difficulty understanding one’s own self-image.

How can we manage it?

Here are some ways you can manage your loneliness:

  • Join groups or communities of like-minded people.

There are many groups out there, both in person and online, for pretty much any hobby or interest you have. Joining one can not only be fun, but also allow you to build friendships and connections with people who already have a similar interest to you.

  • Spend time outside.

Going for walks, going shopping, or just sitting in the park can be a slow and steady way to get more comfortable with being around other people. You can also join walker’s clubs or offer to walk dogs – this will allow you to make more connections in a casual setting.

  • Turn your acquaintances into close friends.

You may have people you know but don’t feel close to. You can try and talk with them about a shared interest or event and become closer with them.

  • Therapies.

If you feel unable or unprepared to talk with people, it can be worth trying therapy. This can help you understand your thoughts and feelings and develop a strategy to overcome your loneliness.

There also may be services on offer such as local drop-in centres, befriending schemes, or education courses in your area designed to help with this issue. For example, most areas will have a local Mind, each of which will offer different services.

How can we help others who are lonely?

If you know someone who may be suffering from loneliness, some ways you can help them are:

  • Regularly inviting them to social events, even if they often say they don’t want to.
  • Making sure to regularly check in with them and see how they’re doing.
  • Offering support with personal issues.
  • Opening up to them, so that they feel more comfortable doing the same with you.
  • Offer practical help, such as helping them cook.

You can also volunteer for organisations to help socially isolated people, such as the elderly. Or offer to take part in befriending schemes, that pair you up with an isolated person to chat.

This Blue Monday, make sure you know how to support yourself or those close to you if they suffer from loneliness.