Suffering from lockdown loneliness? Here are five ways to combat it

Whether it’s missing Friday night down the pub or going to baby classes, many of our social relationships are now a distant memory.

In our efforts to stay safe and save lives we have sacrificed most of our contact with the outside world.

And feelings of loneliness have become more common – according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation in late November, one in four UK adults said they had felt lonely in the last two weeks.

Generally, loneliness is a feeling of sadness or emptiness when our need for social contact is not met. While it isn’t classed as a mental health problem in itself, it can be a trigger, and it’s the younger generation among those at higher risk.

‘Research has found those at a higher risk of loneliness include young adults aged 18 to 24,’ says Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind.

‘In 2020, we surveyed over 16,000 people during the initial lockdown and found that loneliness has been a key contributor to poor mental health during the pandemic. Feelings of loneliness made nearly two thirds of people’s mental health worse, with 18 to 24-year-olds most likely to see loneliness affect their mental health.

‘Research suggests that loneliness is linked with an increased risk of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep problems and increased stress. Feeling anxious or low may cause you to withdraw from your loved ones, which could mean you feel even lonelier. Because of this, it’s important to recognise and address how you’re feeling as soon as possible.’

While the long-term effects of the pandemic are thought to include OCD and anxiety, chronic loneliness brought on by social isolation is another.

‘When it comes to the pandemic it’s actually the most social people who are thought to be at the highest risk from loneliness,’ says psychologist Alex Frenkel, co-founder of wellness coaching app Kai.

‘The constant necessary public health measures are affecting all of us no matter our age and background, and you should never punish yourself for feeling lonely. It’s not just people who live alone, you can be surrounded by people in a house and still feel lonely.’

Worryingly, it’s not only mental health that loneliness can effect. ‘The most commonly cited research on loneliness and physical health is that it is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day,’ says Alex.

‘Lonely people are also 50 per cent more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships and it’s thought that this is due to reduced immunity and increased inflammation which can lead to heart disease.’

These are all shocking figures and while we might be suffering from Zoom fatigue or unable to muster up the energy for another online quiz, both experts agree that the simplest and best way to overcome feelings of loneliness is to talk to someone and acknowledge your feelings. From a mental health point of view, talking would be your first call to action.

‘Talk to someone you trust, either a close friend or family member about how you’re feeling,’ says Stephen. ‘Alternatively, you could try talking therapy which allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them.

‘Eighty per cent of our daily thoughts are negative and need to be rewired for positivity, but we must first be aware of them,’ adds Alex.

‘Many people are lonely due to lockdown and complain that they are trapped in their flat. However, if you took away their flat, they’d soon realise the gratitude they didn’t even know they felt for a roof over their head. Practicing gratitude can help tackle loneliness as it reminds us to lean on support systems and sources of strength that are easier to access. This highlights that you’re never really alone, despite feeling that surge of emotion under lockdown.

‘Gratitude is a key tool in leading a more thoughtful and thankful approach towards tough situations.’

Five steps to beating loneliness

Psychologist and co-founder of Kai, Alex Frenkel, shares his top five tips for beating loneliness…

Exercise

‘Exercising is hugely beneficial in tackling loneliness and situational depression. Through virtual group exercise classes, we not only get a sense of human interaction, but we also get our bodies moving. When exercising, our body releases endorphins, which helps to boost our mood and reduces our perception of pain. Exercise also helps tackle insomnia, as it helps to reduce stress and tires you out.’

Routine

‘Solitude has become the new normal, so a strict routine is highly encouraged. Creating a balanced routine gives you things to look forward to, helps you plan your time and manage your work/life balance better.’

Breathing

‘You don’t always need to push away the troubling thoughts that accompany loneliness. If it arises, simply accept it, breathe into it, and when breathing out, know that this is a temporary feeling. There are lots of breathing techniques online that can be used to lower the anxiety triggered by loneliness.’

Journaling

‘Instead of allowing loneliness to consume you, write your feelings down, so you can reflect on them from a distance. You will realise loneliness is just a feeling and doesn’t define you. Journaling allows you to be free of your negative thoughts and helps to refocus your attention away from the bad.’

Plan things to look forward to

‘During the pandemic, there has been a lack of physical plans to look forward to. However, try to fill your diary with social arrangements – including video calls with your friends and family and online classes or a seminar – to help boost your mood.’

If you’re stuggling with loneliness visit mentalhealth.org.uk or mind.org.uk.

Home Fitness Kit under £10

Ultimate Performance Massage Balls

These massage balls reduce pain and relieve tension in muscles, ligaments and tendons. Use your body weight to control the depth of massage and pressure.

Buy it for £7.99 (set of two) from 1000 Mile.

Shreddy Sherbert Orange Sliders

Designed to be placed under your hands or feet whilst performing exercises to create an unstable surface, these force you to engage your more muscles whilst training.

Available February 18, £9.99 from Shreddy.

Ten Boutique’s Align-Pilates Ball

This pilates ball (diameter 18cm) can be used as an aid in your workout, or as part of a physiotherapy and rehabilitation routine. It helps to target and strengthen smaller muscle groups, so perfect for pelvic floor exercises and deep core muscles.

Buy it for £8 from Ten Boutique.

Meglio Fabric Glute Resistance Bands

The perfect alternative to free weights and resistance machines, Meglio Fabric Glute Resistance Bands can help strengthen your glute muscles and joints. Choose from three resistance levels.

Buy it for £5.99 each from Meglio.

1.5kg Active Dumbbells

Great for beginners looking to add more resistance to their home workout, these 1.5kg Active dumbbells are a good starting weight if you want to add tension to an exercise.

Buy it for £6 (two pack) from B&M.

Sweat Band Viavito Ab Exercise Wheel

Focus on your core and improve your strength and endurance with this Sweat Band Viavito Ab Exercise Wheel. It comes with a 1.5cm knee pad to protect your knees.

Buy it for £9.99 from sweatband.com.

To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join Metro.co.uk’s Facebook group, Mentally Yours.

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