How to Deal With Loneliness Post-COVID
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, something that grows in significance with each passing year. With many of us still working from home either full-time or as part of a ‘hybrid’ working model, we have all experienced some kind of change in our working environment because of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns.
These changes have isolated many of us from our colleagues and peers. They have also heightened the feelings of loneliness among those who were already feeling distanced and isolated from family, friends and their local community.
It is perhaps appropriate then that the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year is loneliness.
Proven to be as bad for our health as smoking, loneliness contributes to poor physical as well as mental health. It increases mortality, the risk of coronary disease, and is perhaps one of the most significant factors in the mental health crisis we are facing today.
So, why do we find it so hard to talk about loneliness?
There is still a stigma attached to admitting to feelings of loneliness. We may worry we’ll be judged and considered ‘friendless’ or we simply don’t want to be a burden on our friends and families.
Social media also plays a part, in that it offers us snapshots of the idealised, busy and fascinating lives of others. These are often unrealistic portrayals. Comparing ourselves to friends, family and even complete strangers on social media can increase our existing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
During the lockdown period, a sense of local community that had been lacking was somewhat reignited, and we all briefly felt a part of something larger again during ‘clap for carers’ Thursdays. This, sadly, seems to have faded away as quickly as it came.
What can we do now?
The obvious but difficult answer is that we need to start having conversations about loneliness. We all ask how our friends and colleagues are, but do we ever really ask “how are you?” When we do, are we genuinely open to an honest answer and the conversation that might follow? It can be surprising how much someone will open up if you notice they are not quite themselves and show an interest.
Marmalade Trust is the UK’s leading loneliness charity. They have some excellent resources and have put together a three-step approach to loneliness. One thing they encourage is for us to start creating our own communities. Think about what interests you and how those interests can lead you to interacting more with others. Once you’ve identified that thing you have in common with others, reach out to associated groups.
Most importantly, if you are struggling – talk to somebody. Everybody experiences feelings of loneliness at some point in their lives, and talking about it is the first and most important step to feeling better.
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