The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and magnified the issue of loneliness in the UK. Here, Michelle Higgs highlights some ideas you could try if you’re feeling lonely
We all feel lonely from time to time but for many people, loneliness is a more serious problem. And it can affect anyone, young or old, from all walks of life. It can strike at any time, from moving to a different part of the country for work and leaving your network of friends and family behind, to losing a much-loved partner with whom you did everything.
But it’s important to remember there’s a difference between being alone and experiencing feelings of loneliness. You might be perfectly content in your own company if you live alone, especially if you have an active social life outside the home. For others, the lack of companionship could feel like the worst thing in the world. You can feel lonely in a city full of people or even when you’re in a relationship if it’s not a happy one.
If feeling lonely is having a negative impact on your wellbeing, it’s time to take steps to solve the problem. Be inspired by our 10 ideas, but bear in mind you need to be patient because loneliness doesn’t disappear overnight. Try one thing at a time and don’t get disheartened if they don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped.
1 Use technology
During the pandemic, more people than ever discovered video calling as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family. If you’re an older person who isn’t used to technology, ask a friend or relative to help you – it’s easy when you know how! You don’t need a computer to do video calling, just a smartphone or a tablet. Your local library or community centre may offer training, and charities such as Age UK also run computer courses (https://www.ageuk.org.uk/services/in-your-area/it-training/).
2 Join a choir
Singing is scientifically proven to be beneficial to your health, improving your breathing and posture, exercising your brain, and releasing ‘happy’ chemicals called endorphins. Group singing is even better because it helps to form social bonds and acts as a natural icebreaker. Find out if there’s a community choir near you; there isn’t usually an audition process to join, so go along to see if it’s something you would like to try. You’ll get to meet lots of new people and have fun at the same time. And it will get your toes tapping too!
3 Do some voluntary work
Do you have a couple of hours a week to spare and skills that could be used to help others? If so, think about whether there’s a charity close to your heart that you’d like to get involved with. These organisations are crying out for volunteers and there are many different roles you could take on. You could work in one of the shops, sorting donations or serving customers, or you could get involved in fundraising. Or you could be a driver offering community transport to the vulnerable. If you prefer being outdoors, how about volunteering for gardening projects or walking rescue dogs? As well as meeting new people, you’ll gain new skills and benefit the charity so it’s a win-win situation.
4 Get a pet
If you yearn for companionship at home, consider getting a pet to help fill the void. Most people choose cats or dogs, but you could opt for a pair of guinea pigs, rabbits or a hamster – anything that requires your care and attention. However, never get a pet on a whim. Do your research first to make sure you have the time, money and commitment needed to look after an animal during its lifetime. If you decide you do want a pet, think about adopting one from an animal shelter rather than buying from a breeder.
5 Join a walking group
Going out in the fresh air, being connected with nature and getting plenty of exercise are just three of the benefits of walking by yourself. But if you join a walking group, the extra bonus is that you’ll get regular social contact with likeminded people in a relaxed way and you’ll form new friendships naturally. Walks are usually tailored to fitness levels, so you don’t need to worry about not keeping up if you haven’t been active for a while. With so many benefits, what’s not to like?
6 Learn something new
Taking up a new hobby or interest is a great way to connect with new people and improve your social life. Have you always wanted to speak Italian or Spanish? Take a course to do just that. Would you like to learn how to paint or draw? Join an art group to find out how and have a go. From tap dancing and local history, to crafts and wine-tasting, the possibilities are endless! If you’re retired, try the classes and courses run by The University of the Third
7 Start a new sport
You can keep fit and healthy while you make new friends if you take up a new sport. Find out what’s going on at your local leisure centre or sports club. There are often ‘taster’ sessions for different sports, so if you’ve always wanted to try yoga, tennis, basketball or climbing, that’s the ideal opportunity. Team sports are great for feeling part of a group as you’ll meet the same people on a regular basis. Football, netball, cricket and bowls are good options. If you’re looking for something less energetic, try walking football.
8 Try your local befriender service
If you feel lonely but you have problems with mobility and find it difficult to leave the house, it can feel like you’ve been abandoned. One solution is to sign up with a befriender service in your area. You’ll be paired up with someone who will either visit, call you by phone, or video call on a regular basis. There are lots of charities that offer these services so find out what’s available in your area.
9 Talk to your GP
If you’ve been lonely for a long time, your mental health could be at risk. Loneliness can lead to depression so it’s good to talk about your situation, and your thoughts and feelings, with your GP. It’s possible you will be offered ‘social prescribing’. This means you could be referred to a non-clinical service such as a dance class, gardening group or talking therapy.
10 Call a helpline
Sometimes, the most difficult part of tackling loneliness is acknowledging the problem in the first place. If you’re struggling with this, try calling a confidential helpline and speaking to someone who can offer a friendly ear. For older people, The Silver Line is ideal (0800 470 80 90) while the equivalent for younger people is SupportLine (01708 765 200).