Feeling alone?

The sense of isolation over the past 12 months has increased for many. Weve got some tips for combating loneliness and improving your mental health

Louise Parfitt There is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. People who spend much of their time on their own are not necessarily lonely; likewise, people with a large circle of friends and relatives can still feel isolated. Loneliness can occur at any age: a study carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) during April 2020 found that more people aged 16-24 reported feeling lonely than in other age groups. No matter how many contacts you may have on social media, nothing beats having a few trusted people to whom you can turn. Many factors may cause loneliness, and these vary from person to person. Common triggers are bereavement, retirement, moving to a new area, and the enforced social distancing weve all experienced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly for those of us who have had to shield. Sometimes, loneliness creeps up on us, and we realise that we dont have anyone to talk to or who really listens to us. The ONS found that people with disabilities defined, using the core definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010, as someone with a long-standing illness, condition or impairment that reduces their ability to carry out day-to-day activities were more likely to be lonely than those without a disability (11 per cent/2.8 per cent). There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are things we can do to combat loneliness, improve our mental health and prevent a negative impact on our physical health and wellbeing. istock.com / martin-dm Self The great outdoors Getting out and about can be easier said than done with lockdown restrictions and cold weather. But even short bursts of time in a green space or reconnecting with nature can improve our mood, according to the mental health charity Mind. Picking up the phone to chat to a friend or relative may make their day, as well as yours Inside your four walls If you cant get out easily, you could try bringing nature inside, with plants to tend or windowsill herbs to grow, which can help with mental health. It can also help to vary the areas of your home in which you spend time. Government guidance on looking after mental health during Covid-19 suggests looking at how you can create positive new routines, including times for cleaning, cooking, exercise, reading and getting in touch with friends. You might find it helpful to write a plan for your day or week. Its good to talk Picking up the phone to chat to a friend or relative may make their day, as well as yours, and even passing the time of day with a neighbour can help you feel connected. Loneliness can lower self-esteem, so if it feels really hard to make that first move, you could start by sending an email or text message, or by writing a letter. There are also organisations where someone will call you to have a chat (see box, right). Keep active Being active benefits not only our physical health, but also how we feel, because exercise releases endorphins (our happy hormones). The longer days of spring bring more chances for walking, gardening and outdoor sports, but exercising inside can also be fun and rewarding. You could try Versus Arthritis free Lets Move with Leon workouts see versusarthritis.org/letsmovewithleon Pet pals Pets can be great companions, but may need more care than you are in a position to provide. There are groups that offer the chance to look after other peoples pets from just a few hours up to overnight stays so you get the benefits of stroking, walking and playing with an animal without the costs or long-term commitment. Check out shareyourpet.co.uk or borrowmydoggy.com Community groups Hopefully, this year, groups that had to stop meeting because of Covid-19 will be able to start up again. Versus Arthritis has local groups see versusarthritis.org/ in-your-area and an online forum where you can connect with other members: community.versusarthritis.org CALL FOR HELP The friendly Versus Arthritis helpline staff can be called on 0800 5200 520 if you want further advice or support. NHS Volunteer Responders call people who are lonely, or isolating, for a chat. If you or someone you know would benefit from this service, call 0808 196 3646 or go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk CALL FOR HELP