Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 taking place between the 15th and 21st May, and will highlight the issue of loneliness. Social connection is an integral part of protecting our mental health, we all need to feel there is support we can turn to when times get tough.
Julie Pichler from We Are Wellbeing discusses how we can better protect our mental health for this month and beyond:
Lonely vs Alone
You may think loneliness is about being alone, whereas some people really enjoy their own company and would not find this distressing in the slightest. Loneliness is, in fact, the feeling we experience when there is a mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want. Furthermore, loneliness can be broken down into social and emotional aspects, social loneliness comes from the absence of socially immersive relationships, and emotional loneliness stemming from the absence of a close emotional attachment.
Social connection can help provide meaning and purpose to our life, helps us feel valued and can help us share our passions and hobbies. The warmth of our relationships throughout our life has been shown to be one of the greatest factors on life satisfaction and health.
Impact on mental health
Evidence has shown that people with mental health issues such as bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or depression who perceive poor social support as poor, have worse symptoms and recovery from illness. The reasons for this are multi-factorial, but loneliness also affects the body physically, such as hormones, neurotransmitters and immune function as well as the mind. It can raise stress and impair sleep, and long term is considered as much of a risk factor for poor health, as obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking.
Tips if you’re feeling lonely
The last two years of the pandemic has shone a spotlight even more on the natural need to be with loved ones, so when you’re feeling lonely, here are some tips to support those feelings;
- Acknowledgment – loneliness is a universal experience of being human, a perfectly normal reaction to circumstances in our life. By being able to label and understand the feeling, we are on our way to being able to choose an action if we wish.
- Reach out – connect to those already in your life and confide in someone you do feel supports you. A problem shared is a problem halved, and they may be able to find a fresh perspective or help you find a way to engage in new ways.
- Invest in your existing relationships – can you deepen the bond with those you already have around you?
- Indulge in hobbies and interests? Has this area of your life been neglected, can you reconnect with what you enjoy just for fun, and find a new way to express it? Clubs and groups that closed over lockdown may be opening up again in your local area, even a search online could open up a world of new opportunities.
- Get outside in nature – connection to our environment can be enriching as well as people. Finding green space is beneficial for our mental health as well as gentle exercise can nourish our brain, finding fresh motivation.
- Be kind to yourself – our inner self talk can sometimes need a check, as well as external rewards to wind down. What can you do to treat yourself?
- Express gratitude – writing down 3 things every day that you are grateful for, has been shown to improve mental health. It may seem difficult at first, but with practice the practice will become deeper and can support a positive outlook.
Opening up about your feelings can be an important step to feeling better. If you need more information and support with your mental health, the following organisations can offer help: