Are you alone, or are you lonely?

Mental Health Awareness Week is 9th – 15th of May. The theme is particularly relevant as we emerge from the pandemic – it’s loneliness, says Izzy Anwell of Dorset Mind.
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Research by the Mental Health Foundation has revealed that people across the UK became a lot more lonely during the pandemic. Loneliness can have damaging effects on physical and mental health. Not only can loneliness contribute to, and exacerbate, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, but some research suggests that loneliness can be as damaging to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness is a unique experience. Someone can be lonely due to social isolation, where they have little
contact with others, such as an older adult with no family. It is also possible to feel lonely in a room full of people. This is because loneliness can stem from not feeling heard, understood, or cared for by the people around you. Equally, it is possible for someone to feel content being alone. Everyone is different and all emotions are valid.

So how to combat loneliness? One option is to make a concerted effort to meet new people. Although this can be daunting, it is worth giving yourself a little push, remembering that you can leave if you feel overwhelmed. This may be through joining a club or activity – somewhere you can meet people with similar
interests.
Alternatively, you can sign up to volunteer for a cause (such as Dorset Mind!) where you can meet people with similar passions whilst giving back to the community. There’s a charity for every interest, and I guarantee they’re ALL crying out for more volunteers. Helping others can help combat loneliness as it can make us feel more connected to society. Research suggests that ‘giving back’ is one of five proven ways to improve your mental health.
Another strategy would be to appreciate and strengthen your existing connections. Sometimes we can be too focused on what we believe are active demonstrations of caring (i.e. regular phone calls) but not recognise other gestures, such as a friend who is always willing to help with errands. Additionally,
sometimes we are reluctant to make the first move, such as initiating plans. Even if it doesn’t work out as you hoped, you can feel comfort in the knowledge that you tried.
It is possible to become better at managing and accepting the experience of loneliness. The first step is to accept the feeling, learn to sit with it and know that you can survive it. Try to learn to enjoy your own company by making an effort to do enjoyable things. Follow a routine of self-care or start a new activity – rediscover the benefits of enjoying your own company. You can also learn strategies to better manage difficult emotions such as loneliness through various talking therapies and psychological treatments.

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