THIS year has taught us more than anything that it’s the little things that mean a lot – like hugging our loved ones and going for a drink with friends whenever we fancy it.
The Covid-19 pandemic has uprooted us all, but as it’s raged, another silent epidemic has taken hold: loneliness.
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During the pandemic, a shocking 2.6million people have said they’ve felt “chronically lonely”, according to the ONS.
And it’s not just the older generation, either – the Mental Health Foundation found a staggering 44 per cent of 18-24 year olds say they’ve struggled with feelings of isolation.
While it might be tempting to dismiss it, feeling alone is not something to ignore, whatever your age, as it can have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical health.
“Our coronavirus research found that loneliness was a key contributor to worsening mental health,” says Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind.
“Loneliness is like hunger or thirst – it’s our bodies telling us we need social contact.”
Professor Tine Van Bortel from the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge says: “Loneliness is a major problem and has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”
Living in Manchester, more than 200 miles from her family in London, teacher Emily Lewis, 38, was left feeling isolated.
Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.Prof Tine Van Bortel
“It felt like my whole world was cut off,” she says.
“Social media was full of people embracing the ‘new normal’. I didn’t have someone to have fun with.”
Here, Emily shares coping mechanisms she’s found helpful for handling loneliness…
The Sun’s Christmas Together campaign
THIS Christmas we are teaming up with the Together Campaign, a coalition of community groups and organisations, and Royal Voluntary Service to combat loneliness.
And we want to recruit an army of volunteers to support those feeling cut off, anxious and isolated, this Christmas.
Could YOU reach out to someone who might be struggling and alone?
It might be someone you know in your own life or community who needs support.
Or we can connect you with someone in need through the NHS Volunteer responder programme run by the NHS, Royal Voluntary Service and the GoodSAM app.
Could you give up half an hour to make a call and chat with someone feeling isolated? Or could you volunteer to deliver essential shopping or festive treats?
Go to nhsvolunteerresponders.org.uk/christmastogether to sign up as a volunteer.
You will then receive an email taking you through the sign up process and be asked to download the responder app which will match you to those in need in your area.
Don’t worry if you don’t get a job straight away, because jobs are matched according to the need local to you. Being ready to help is what really matters.
Accept the down days
“WHEN I accepted that some days were going to be tough, and that it’s normal to have ups and downs, I found that everything was much better.
I embraced the PJ days when I needed them, and as a result, the following day I would always feel so much better.
So listen to your body and what it needs. Also, accept how you feel and that what you feel is valid.
Don’t undermine your feelings because you think other people have it worse. They might do, but your feelings are relevant to you.”
Do something for yourself
“WHEN I feel lonely, the last thing I need is to put more pressure on myself to lose weight or get fitter.
I now see it’s really important not to compare myself to others. I watched people learning new languages, running 10K every day and redecorating their whole house, but it’s just not achievable for many of us.
I don’t bake and nor do I want to sit at home eating loaves of banana bread by myself.
However, I’ve realised that doing a small, achievable project can be really fulfilling. I signed up for a photography course just using my phone.
It’s something I could do by myself and it gave me a reason to go out. It was so much fun that I’ve continued with it.”
Spot the signs
AGE UK warns significant life changes can trigger loneliness. The charity says it’s worth looking out for a loved one if they:
For more info on how to support people who are lonely, visit Ageuk.org.uk.
Have date nights for one
“I MAKE myself a really nice dinner with treat food.
I curl my hair and get dressed up in a nice outfit and it makes me feel so much better.
Self-care is essential, so try a pamper session at home, or cook something extravagant – just do something that makes you feel in control and content.”
Walk and talk
“I FIND it really comforting to call a mate when I go for a walk, because it makes it feel like I have company, and a long walk definitely feels shorter when you’re distracted!
I also like being on video calls with my friend while we cook or work from home.
Sometimes we don’t even talk, except for the odd comment, but having the background noise is reassuring and makes me feel like I’m not alone.
Try pretend hugs
“LIKE so many people, I’ve really struggled with lack of touch during the pandemic.
So when I’m on video calls with my two-year-old nephew we end each call with a self-hug – but pretend it’s from each other.
It’s not the same of course, but it is soothing.
When I was finally allowed to bubble with a friend who also lives on her own, I cried as I hugged her for 30 minutes.”
The expert view
MIND'S Stephen Buckley says:
If you need extra support contact Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am-6pm, Monday-Friday)
Have a routine
“AS a supply teacher, during the first lockdown I had no work to keep me busy so the days felt longer and it just amplified how alone I felt in my own home.
That’s when I realised I needed to break up my day.
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So when I wasn’t working, every morning I’d wake up at 7am, get dressed then have a video call with my nephew where we’d sing nursery rhymes.
I prefer to go out for a walk in the afternoon, rather than going in the morning and then feeling stuck indoors.
Even though I’m back working full-time now, I found learning those lessons early on helped.”
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