Ever had that moment when you’re in a group of people you don’t particularly connect with, and you’ve never felt more alone? Find yourself retreating to your bedroom more and more, so you can avoid social situations and be on our own? Or just prefer your own company to other people’s?
These scenarios can happen to anyone. Yet while planning some ‘me’ time in your diary can help you build resilience and feel emotionally robust, it’s when these tendencies for ‘alone time’ overshadow the impetus to socialise that issues can emerge. Increasing feelings of isolation when surrounded by friends or acquaintances – or a bigger preference to be on your own, to the exclusion of other people – can lead to bigger problems down the line. Even health problems, according to a recent study. Loneliness can be a bigger killer than obesity or smoking 20 a day. And don’t believe that feelings of social isolation are just for the elderly, either.
Research from Brigham Young University highlights the health worries for people who are lonely or socially isolated – and that means anyone of any age, size, culture or disposition. The obvious but often seemingly unachievable antidote to loneliness is to reach out to to others. Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad says: “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”
But how to reach out socially when you feel unable or unwilling to do so? Here are my five tips for starting to combat loneliness:
1. Start a journal. If you want a relationship with others then you first need a relationship with yourself. How can you know how and what you feel if you don’t express your feelings somehow? With a journal you have someone to listen, day and night, to what’s going on for you inside and outside. This has nothing to do with being an introvert or an extrovert. It’s about getting to know yourself and how you can interact with the world. Your journal won’t judge or criticise. It will hold all your hopes, fears and feelings. This is about testing your ability to be connected in an emotional way.
2. Make safe and short invitations. Start with close family or friends – where possible and/or appropriate. A coffee or hot chocolate at the local cafe is a good place to connect, or suggest a sandwich or sushi on a quick lunch break. The effort involved will be dictated by how many minutes you have, and you can dash off to your own workplace (or home) safely and swiftly afterwards. This is about testing your ability to be connected in a time-limited way.
3. Say yes to events you’re invited to. Friends, family and acquaintances may want your company at their events/functions/parties/get-togethers, such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Yes, they can feel the thing you most want to avoid, but they’re a given opportunity to reconnect. One way to manage these events is to turn up early and speak to the host before the event gets going. And/or coming along with a trusted friend, who may not have a family connection, may reduce your chances of feeling like you’re on your own. Either way, find out from the host who will be there, what the format of the event will be, and decide beforehand what you will wear/who you will bring/which anecdotes you will tell. This is about testing your ability to build social resilience while balancing self care.
4. Find an online forum you can express yourself in. OK. So Facebook may be too show-offy. Instagram may feel too glossy and posed. Twitter may be too newsy. But there may be a social forum that fits your needs and interests. Have a look around for something that’s close to your heart. Join in and have your say. This is about testing your ability to have your say publicly – and being able to deal with responses.
5. Step into a group. This may feel like the hardest thing: rocking up to a group with which you’ve had no previous contact, and engaging with people with whom you could never imagine socialising with normally. There are numerous ways to meet up with other people within your sphere of interest, if you could only take that first step. This is about testing your ability to interact with people completely out of your comfort zone.
For more help and support, call Karen on 07956 823501.
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