As the pandemic continues around the world, are we staying home more often as a safety measure and many of us look set to remain so as working from home is integrated into mainstream practice. While this offers many benefits to us, such as cutting out commuting and removing geographical barriers to work, it’s worth refocusing on the issue of loneliness which we first became aware of when we were locked down and confined to our homes.
Mind.org, a UK-based mental health charity, describes loneliness as “the feeling we get when our need for rewarding social contact and relationships is not met.” The organisation explains that while loneliness isn’t a mental health problem in itself, the two are linked. Having a pre-existing mental health problem can increase your chances of feeling lonely, and extended periods of feeling lonely can negatively affect your mental health.
This problem was accelerated by the pandemic, but the issue has long been lurking. A 2018 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 22 percent of all adults in the US often or always felt lonely.
So, how do we constructively approach dealing with loneliness?
It’s important to understand that the prevalence of loneliness doesn’t just pose a risk to our mental wellbeing. A New York Times article, ‘The Surprising Effects of Loneliness on Health’, notes the physical implications of extended loneliness can include raised levels of stress hormones and inflammation, and an earlier decline in cognitive function. While this may sound alarming, it is far more common than you may think. In fact, the article explains that a report undertaken by Dr Carla Perissinotto and colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco highlighted that most lonely individuals are married, live with others, and are not clinically depressed.
Here are some pointers to break loneliness down, which can at times be overwhelming, into small steps:
Focus on quality of communication. The stressors and pace of everyday life can make it all too easy to take for granted the people we spend the most time with. This can often look like disregarding their needs. Loneliness NZ explains that understanding each other better creates a more harmonious bubble environment for living with others during a pandemic, but the principles should be applied in our daily lives. Understanding the impact our own behaviour has on those in such close proximity to us is an important tool in nurturing relationships and being surrounded by positivity.
When we are irritated or distracted, often our default mode of interacting with others can lead to a breakdown in open communication and feelings of connection. Some tips from Loneliness NZ are to implement kindness, empathy, tolerance, patience, and respect into our way of dealing with others, in order to be treated with these same values.
Seek to understand others.
Turning outward can seem like the most obvious solution to loneliness but being considerate of others has a surprisingly powerful nurturing impact on our relationships with them. Loneliness NZ suggests being mindful of how people replenish their energy needs. Further to this, what is going on in the lives of the people around you that you could support them with? This could be as simple as checking in and mentioning a small detail about their situation to show that you remember because you care. How could you be more involved in the lives of the people you care about? Being creative and flexible with this is a good approach to bring to busy schedules.
Establish new connections.
Having considered the perspectives of those around you, turning inward to actively consider what makes us tick can help direct the new relationships we form. What brings you joy? What are your hobbies? How can you get involved with people who are interested in the same things? If you are looking to form bonds in your community, find ways to reach out that align with your interests and sources of contentment or joy.
Be mindful of your mood.
Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by a particular feeling it can be as a result of an imbalance. Stress, tiredness, and long periods of inactivity contribute to a state of dysregulation, where we tend to allow negative thoughts to occupy our mental real estate. Mood maintenance is an ongoing task, and there are ways we can assist our bodies with this process. Bee pollen can help you cope more easily with stress. It has a full complement of amino acids, essential fatty acids and vitamins that help regulate mood. There are various subscription-based offers available, including a three-month subscription which supplies 400 capsules for $126 incl GST, or around $0.63 cents a day.
By Keren Cook, NatureBee
Where to find help and support:
Shine (domestic violence) – 0508 744 633
Women’s Refuge – 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
Need to Talk? – Call or text 1737
What’s Up – 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Youthline – 0800 376 633, text 234, email email@example.com or online chat
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Shakti Community Council – 0800 742 584