7 tips to over­come lone­li­ness

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health / Lifestyle -

1) Recog­nise the im­pact of lone­li­ness

Ac­cord­ing to the Cam­paign to End Lone­li­ness, a com­mis­sion orig­i­nally set up by the UK MP Jo Cox in 2016, lone­li­ness can be as dam­ag­ing as smok­ing 15 cig­a­rettes a day. It is also as­so­ci­ated with in­creased risk of heart dis­ease, stroke and blood pres­sure, as well as de­men­tia – one study cited by the cam­paign found that lonely peo­ple “have a 64 per cent in­creased chance of de­vel­op­ing clin­i­cal de­men­tia”.

Hav­ing healthy so­cial net­works, on the other hand, can de­crease risk of mor­tal­ity and of de­vel­op­ing dis­eases, as well as help­ing peo­ple re­cover when they are ill – and with 9 mil­lion adults de­scrib­ing them­selves as “of­ten or al­ways lonely”, it is clear that lone­li­ness has be­come such a press­ing pub­lic health con­cern. Recog­nis­ing the im­pact lone­li­ness could have on you is the first step to tack­ling it.

2) Work out why you are lonely

There are two main fac­tors that can cause lone­li­ness: some­one either not hav­ing enough ba­sic so­cial con­tact or, de­spite be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple, not feel­ing un­der­stood, lis­tened to or cared for.

Work­ing out which pro­file fits best could give a bet­ter idea of how to work through your feel­ings of lone­li­ness.

3) Speak to some­one

Talk­ing to friends and fam­ily is an ob­vi­ous and easy path to tack­ling lone­li­ness, but if you feel you are lack­ing, join­ing a club or so­cial­is­ing through hob­bies or in­ter­ests is a good way to meet new peo­ple and in­crease so­cial in­ter­ac­tions.

In Ire­land, char­i­ties such as ALONE and have long recog­nised the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact lone­li­ness can have and the need to com­bat it with ini­tia­tives such as Be­friend­ing Net­work Ire­land.

4) Get on­line

Spend­ing time on­line ob­vi­ously can­not re­place all your real-life in­ter­ac­tions, but it can help. This might not be the glo­ri­ous panacea it im­me­di­ately seems, how­ever, with more than one study find­ing a link be­tween lone­li­ness and time spent on­line, so it is im­por­tant to sup­ple­ment on­line chats with ac­tual meet-ups, too.

5) In­crease mean­ing­ful so­cial con­tact

It’s all very well join­ing Twit­ter or vol­un­teer­ing at your lo­cal char­ity shop, but some re­search sug­gests that who you spend your time with mat­ters, too. One study in 2011 found that el­derly peo­ple who spent time with fam­ily were less lonely than those at­tend­ing so­cial groups with strangers. The per­fect ex­cuse to call your mum.

6) Change your think­ing

Other stud­ies have shown that chang­ing your think­ing al­to­gether might be a more foun­da­tional way of deal­ing with lone­li­ness.

One 2010 study found that ap­proaches de­signed to change “mal­adap­tive think­ing” – such as neg­a­tive be­liefs or black-and-white think­ing – were, on av­er­age, four times more ef­fec­tive than any other kind of ap­proach. At­tend­ing CBT might be a good start, the study au­thors sug­gest, so per­haps con­sider speak­ing with a ther­a­pist.

7) Learn to be okay in your own com­pany

Too much soli­tude would make any­one lonely. But learn­ing to en­joy time on your own can be just as im­por­tant as a good so­cial life. Fill­ing your time with hob­bies that in­ter­est you – and, im­por­tantly, ap­pre­ci­at­ing the plea­sure that these things give you – can go some way to com­bat­ing lone­li­ness.

Watch­ing a film or din­ing alone may not sound par­tic­u­larly thrilling, but with one 2015 study find­ing that peo­ple con­sis­tently un­der­es­ti­mate how much they en­joy their own com­pany, you might have more fun than you ex­pect.

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