Loneliness is a feeling all of us will experience at some point in our lives. As Mind point out, “One common description of loneliness is the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met. But loneliness is not always the same as being alone.” We may feel lonely even when we are surrounded by people; being alone does not always lead to loneliness.
This could not be more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our lives have been upended, our capacity for socialisation limited, our worlds reduced to our own four walls and perhaps our neighbourhood or local supermarket. Some of us may be alone, some of us may live with family or friends, but, regardless of our living circumstances, we are all at risk of loneliness.
The Japanese government have appointed a new ‘Minister of Loneliness’ in the wake of the pandemic, American studies have found young adults and mothers to be most vulnerable to loneliness as a result of COVID-19, and in the UK the charity Sense have found that two-thirds of disabled people are experiencing chronic loneliness in Wales alone. So how can we counteract this? Here are some ideas.
Turn to the internet
If you live alone, it’s likely you have been most affected by rules on household mixing. The government announced ‘support bubbles’ last year, allowing those who live alone to form a bubble with one other household, but this relies on family or friends living nearby.
So, what to do if you live alone and are experiencing loneliness? Or if your support bubble is not enough to keep feelings of isolation at bay?
Mind suggest one way to ‘meet’ new people is to join an online class or talk, whether that be an exercise class, a cooking class, or a talk with an author. Events have moved online for the benefit of all, but this also means that classes that were once inaccessible to those with chronic illnesses are now usable. It’s worth seeing if your local gym, leisure centre or community centre are now offering any of their classes or courses online. Cookery schools and art schools are also hosting classes virtually, regardless of your location, and so are restaurants like Lu Ban in Liverpool, who hosted an online cook-along for Chinese New Year’s Eve with a portion of proceeds coming to Leukaemia Care!
Attending an online class or talk can help combat loneliness, even if you stay on mute – just that feeling of being a part of something with other people can be enough to boost your mood. Even if you live with others, an online class can help to increase your levels of socialisation outside your immediate circle.
Alternatively, if you’d specifically like to interact with others, why not join an online support group or forum? The majority of our support groups have gone virtual, meaning you can interact with others affected by blood cancer from across the UK. Our groups are run by our Regional Co-ordinators and take place on Zoom. We have groups based on location and on diagnosis, meaning you can find the one that appeals most to you. See our website for full details: http://bit.ly/LCSupportGroups, or call 08088 010 444.
We also run support groups on Facebook, as well as a forum on HealthUnlocked where you can be anonymous if you’d prefer. See all our Facebook support groups here: https://www.facebook.com/LeukaemiaCare/groups/ and our HealthUnlocked forum here: http://bit.ly/LeukaemiaCareForum.
What else might you have in common with others? There is a wealth of online forums out there, all themed around different topics. Reddit is perhaps the biggest online ‘forum’, with communities dedicated to interests as diverse as cat ownership, cricket and gaming, just to name a few. You’ll also find other forums specifically for readers (such as on Goodreads), writers, car enthusiasts, gardeners and much more. A quick Google search can bring up a world of possibilities!
But what if you’re not internet-savvy, or you don’t find online courses or forums to be much of a replacement for real face-to-face contact?
For those who want to be online, but need help getting connected, Age UK can help. Call them on 0800 678 1602 between 8am and 7pm (Monday-Sunday) and ask them for help with getting online. They also have a number of useful articles on their website: www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/work-learning/technology-internet/.
For those looking for offline ways to combat loneliness, here are our tips:
- Give a loved one a call – a recent study has found that talking on the phone for just 10 minutes could make you feel less lonely.
- If you find yourself running out of things to say, could you schedule a topic for phone calls? Perhaps you and your loved one can watch an episode of a TV programme or read the same book, then call to discuss it.
- Spend time with a pet – if you don’t own a pet, could someone loan you their pet for a day?
- Structure your day – keeping yourself distracted and sticking to a routine can help relieve feelings of loneliness.
- Do something you love – getting lost in a good book, film or craft project can do a world of good.
- Take up a new hobby – always wanted to spend more time on your garden, or like the idea of knitting? Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill.
Seek professional support
Loneliness can have a debilitating effect on your mental health. If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, don’t be afraid to seek support.
Our counselling fund enables those affected by leukaemia, MDS or an MPN to access counselling. Call us on 08088 010 444, or head to http://bit.ly/AnnAshleyLeukaemiaCounsellingFund to find out more.
Your GP can also put you in touch with mental health services.