You made it to 2021. That, in and of itself, is cause for celebration. But, needless to say, this dawning of the new year is a little different to most.
And, while there is hope on the horizon that we’ll all be innoculated from the virus over the coming months (we see you, Oxford vaccine scientists), you might be feeling somewhat disconnected, today. A haze of terrifying headlines and the prospect of further reams of time separated from the people you love can do that.
Naturally, this could have been true any time over the past year. According to research conducted by Women’s Health of you, our readers, 79% feel lonelier now, than you did before the pandemic. That stat rises to 87% for single people.
So, where to find some sort of balm, if you need one? As part of WH’s latest campaign, The Loneliness Remedy, we’ve been speaking to a collection of the country’s wisest mental health experts. Here, curated from the advice they’ve offered up throughout the pandemic, is a list of key points on handling loneliness. Today, treat them as a tonic, to help you wade, again, into strange waters.
1. Don’t fall back on habits that hurt you
‘When you feel lonely, your mood drops and it can be easy to fall into unhelpful coping behaviours (like withdrawing from other people, spending too long online, eating foods that don’t make us feel good, drinking too much). The most important thing to do is to look after and be kind to yourself,’ explains clinical psychologist and author of The Imposter Cure, Dr Jessamy Hibberd.
Boost your mood by doing the things that make you feel good, and avoiding the things that make you feel bad. Try to set yourself a goal each day to incorporate the small things that bring you pleasure – maybe an hour of Zoom yoga, journalling or listening to a podcast in the bath, or help you relax.
2. Know what you can control
If you’ve woken up today feeling out of sorts, take a second to work out what you can do something about – and what you can’t. ‘Recognising and jotting down the things you can change and influence and those you can’t is worth sticking on your fridge door,’ leading psychotherapist and author of This Too Shall Pass, Julia Samuel, details.
Remember that, even amid wild uncertainty, you are in control of some aspects of your life. ‘It is important to be proactive, to make time for online connection – and, if possible, real connection, through walks together [obviously sticking to the specific rules of your tier]’ she adds.
‘We need connection to others more than anything else. People need people and love in every form is vital medicine right now, we have to commit and work to have it, not wait for someone else to connect with us.’
3. Reach out to your support network
While we may be physically alone, it is still vital to stay connected to those who care for you. ‘It’s important to stay in contact with your loved ones/close people, and those you can lean on, when you need emotional support,’ advises therapist and founder of CultureMinds Therapy, Sharnade George.
Know that your mode of communication counts: There is a distinction between the ways that you connect. Having a phone call, for example, is far more ‘socially nutritious’ than commenting beneath someone’s latest Instagram grid post or firing off a WhatsApp in a group chat.
‘The gold standard is always meeting face to face, followed by a phone call,’ Jeffrey Hall, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, says. ‘Video isn’t actually all that fulfilling. Because you expend more energy in setting it up and keeping it going, it isn’t as easy as calling someone for a chat.’ After this is texting and instant messaging and, last, comes social media.
4. Get creative
Shape your day around things that will make you feel good. Cooking, painting and drawing can all prove soothing. ‘This can help focus the mind and have a calming effect on the brain and body,’ says George. ‘Being creative can help reduce anxiety and stress, by releasing happy chemicals such as dopamine. This can also help individuals recognise their feelings, with being able to express themselves in ways they may find difficult to put into words.’
5. Go outside
You know this, but to reiterate: do get out of the house every day. ‘Time outdoors is good for mental health and a chance to switch focus and get a boost of endorphins from a walk or some exercise,’ is Dr Jessamy’s advice.
6. Keep a routine
‘It helps to have regular routines that you can rely on that give you some certainty, so it might be structural routine of exercise before breakfast, or meditate after work,’ says Samuel.
7. Know that social media will probably not make you feel better
‘I don’t think that social media connection is same as speaking on the phone or meeting in person, at all. It’s an extra effort to phone someone, rather than to comment under a post or fire a DM, and then you get to hear the warmth in the other person’s voice and listen to their verbal cues,’ says Dr Jessamy. Chatting to a mate via their Instagram is easy, but going the extra step will serve as a far greater reward.
8. Just breathe
‘Both exercise and any breathing technique also reduce the anxiety caused by uncertainty, so you get double benefit. Intentionally choosing to do things that give you joy also helps manage uncertainty, so it might be listening to wonderful music as you cook,’ says Samuel.
9. Join in with online meet-ups
If you are struggling with connection with the people in your life, or if you’ve found yourself increasingly removed from people you used to be close with, make an effort to connect with new people, online. ‘Try and find a group or hobby – there are lots of online groups like singing and craft,’ says Dr Jessamy.
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