With the current situation exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness, we have put together a few ideas to help you reconnect with others. We hope they’re helpful!
Modern life has made the world more connected than ever, yet the feeling of isolation is on the increase. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that in the UK, one in 10 of us feels lonely and that 48 percent of us believe we are getting lonelier in general – and this was long before the Covid-19 virus plunged us all into lockdown isolation.
It has long been reported that loneliness can have a negative effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. Luckily, help to combat loneliness has never been more readily available, so here are six simple suggestions to help you reconnect with the world…
1. Join a club
Out of necessity, humans evolved into social beings, surviving and thriving when surrounded by like-minded individuals on whom they could depend and work with. Survival in numbers is less of an issue in the modern world, but psychologists have long understood that humans benefit emotionally from connecting with others, particularly with those who share similar interests.
The obvious option here is to seek out and join a club, be it baking, chess or any other option that appeals to you. Being around people with similar interests helps build confidence, and building new relationships is a highly effective way of reducing a sense of loneliness.
The website of your village, town or city is often a good place to find a club, along with searching online for local options. Ideally, look for a ‘real’ club in the real world rather than online as making connections and building relationships face-to-face is usually more beneficial.
However, if mobility is an issue or your options are limited, the internet is alive with virtual clubs that make it easy to socialise.
One of our favourites is The Staying Inn, a virtual pub created by Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist who created the online space to showcase the skills and talents of the disabled community. “We’re hosting all sorts of different events and making them as accessible as possible,” says Dr Kavanagh. “We’ve had bingo, a choose-your-own-adventure story session, an increasingly popular craft club led by disabled crafters, talks on interesting subjects, and of course our weekly pub quiz. My hope is that this crisis will teach us the value of connecting even when we are far apart.”
2. Learn a new skill
Learning has long been considered a key to happiness and wellbeing and takes the club option a step forwards. As Jason Shen wrote in The Science of Practice: What Happens When You Learn A New Skill, when we learn a new discipline, “we trigger a pattern of electrical signals through our neurons… It’s like going from dial-up to broadband.”
Learning a skill at any stage of your life is hugely beneficial – a pottery class, bread making, mastering a new language, woodwork or whatever it is that interests you is out there and can bring significant benefits.
For maximum benefit, look for a class that brings you into contact with others on the course, again searching online for your best options. If online is your preferred option, look for a course where you’ll get to interact with others rather than learn in isolation.
One excellent option is to sign up to an online British Sign Language course. One such course, created by a 15-year-old student, Tyrese Dibba, in conjunction with disability charity Sense, offers five online video sessions over five days. “Sense wants more people to learn to sign, so when they asked me to teach the lessons I was very happy,” said Tyrese, who has Charge Syndrome, and is deaf and partially sighted. The course was created to help tackle loneliness and isolation among other people with disabilities and is free to enrol.
3. Master the art of small talk
Small talk may seem pointless. After all, passing comment on the weather with a complete stranger is at best odd and at worst quite strange. It’s also scary if you lack self-confidence, as so many of us do. But being able to strike up a conversation with anyone about anything is a skill that can eradicate loneliness and enhance your life.
Aside from opening new doors and opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise encounter, making small talk gives us the social engagement we often crave as human beings. It’s also been shown to make us more intelligent because you have to understand the other person’s point of view.
The easiest way to improve your small talking skills is to start small. Simply strike up a conversation with an old friend via telephone, text or email and build your confidence. As your confidence grows, making small talk with a stranger won’t seem so scary.
For more help with finding ways to build confidence and banish loneliness, read our inspirational content.
4. Say ‘yes’ more
Now this requires a significant mindset shift, but the rewards are worth the effort. Most people are hardwired sceptics, programmed to reply ‘No’ rather than ‘Yes’ as their default. But by saying ‘Yes’ to questions, you will open yourself up to new opportunities and invite collaboration with others.
Saying ‘Yes’ can be scary because it takes you out of your comfort zone, but that’s the point. Our comfort zones can isolate us and make us feel lonely. Saying ‘No’ cuts down conversations, shuts off opportunities and can lead to loneliness. Saying ‘Yes’ opens doors. Indeed, so fond of saying ‘Yes’ is Sir Richard Branson, his Virgin employees nicknamed him ‘Dr Yes’. “Life is a lot more fun when you say yes!” says Branson. “It’s amazing how that one little word can lead you on an incredible adventure.”
The good thing about making ‘Yes’ your default is that you can still say ‘No’ later on, but by that time you’ll have been presented with new options and opportunities. It may only be stopping to talk when you’d rather continue on rather than starting up your own global empire, but even a little, uncertain ‘Yes’ could help to transform your life.
5. Volunteer your time
Charities are always on the look out for volunteers to help out across all areas, up and down the country, and once again the benefits are very clear. It’s been found that people who engage in altruistic activities – in this case volunteering their time – report a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
The NHS lists a number of health benefits related to volunteering, including improved quality of life, improved ability to cope with ill health and improved self-esteem. Each benefit comes as a direct result of connecting with other people. Volunteering comes in various shapes and sizes, from a little to a lot and working around what you can offer.
6. Find yourself a furry friend
Humans aren’t the only solution. Studies have shown that owning a pet can have numerous benefits, including reducing anxiety, providing companionship and helping you to meet new people. According to mental health and wellness experts HelpGuide, pets “fulfil the basic human need for touch,” while “the companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness.”
The type of pet you opt for will depend on how much you can give back: a dog will demand much more of you physically than a cat, for example, which is something you need to consider at the outset. If you have the mobility to walk a dog, however, it has the added bonus of giving you daily exercise and bringing you into contact with other dog walkers and new social circles. If you don’t have the mobility, a cat will very happily provide love and companionship.
Feelings of loneliness affect many of us, often unexpectedly and without warning. While those feelings can often be banished or pushed to the side, that is not always the case for everyone. If you try the steps outlined above but are still feeling lonely, don’t be afraid to seek out professional health via your GP.