It’s a lonely time for everyone. With the coronavirus pandemic confining the UK population to their homes, many people across the country have been shut off from friends and family.
Although the lockdown is beginning to ease, who knows when life will return to normal again? Our social interactions are restricted by distancing measures, and we can still get no closer than two metres to our loved ones. Most people are working from home or on leave, meaning they no longer have access to the camaraderie of the office. And with restaurants, social functions and public events all shut down, meeting new people is out of the question.
For many people, especially those that live alone, all this social isolation can have an incredibly harmful effect on their mental health. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, as well as making sufferers more likely to develop cognitive impairment and health conditions such as heart disease or stroke.
If you are suffering from the social effects of the lockdown, you are not alone. More than 7 million people across the UK have said that their wellbeing has been affected by loneliness caused by social distancing. Although social distancing is without question the best way for us as a nation to combat this deadly disease, more should be done to help those who are struggling with their mental health.
Whether you are in quarantine, working from home or missing your friends and family, you may have felt lonely at some point. And although the lockdown measures aren’t going to end any time soon, there are several steps you can take in the meantime to boost your social interaction and avoid feelings of loneliness. Here are ten ways you can give your mental health a boost in lockdown.
Speak face to face
The best way to alleviate feelings of loneliness is to talk to someone, whether by meeting someone new or by deepening an existing relationship. Reach out to someone. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a close acquaintance or someone you haven’t spoken to in years. It could be a deep and meaningful conversation or a brief catch-up on lockdown life. Either way, it will act as an instant mood booster and raise your levels of happiness and self-esteem.
Opt for video chat over phone calls where you can, as this is the next best thing to an in-person conversation. Nonverbal forms of communication, such as facial expressions and body language, are crucial for developing a bond between two people, and you can’t get this benefit through a simple phone call or text message.
If you’re new to video calling programs, you can download an application such as Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp or Zoom to get in touch with loved ones. Here is a simple guide to making a video call. Bear in mind, calling people all over the country can be expensive if you don’t have the right data or internet plan. You could reduce your phone bill by adopting an unlimited data plan such as SMARTY Unlimited data with no speed restriction.
Schedule social nights
Just because bars, restaurants and other public places are closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a get-together with your loved ones. People have found all kinds of innovative ways to have fun remotely in lockdown. Organise a virtual quiz night with friends or a dinner party over Zoom. If romance is on your agenda, you could even attend an online speed-dating event. It doesn’t matter what you get up to, as long as you regularly make an effort to schedule something you can look forward to. This will keep you going through tough times and help battle those unhelpful feelings of isolation.
Engage in acts of kindness
Being kind to others has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness. If you’re struggling with your mental health, being there for others can help you build a sense of purpose and belonging, while providing an opportunity for social interaction. Although staying at home is limiting, there are many ways you could give support to others at this time. Reach out to elderly or vulnerable relatives to see if they need any help getting food or supplies. Maybe they would just benefit from a friendly face. Alternatively, you could donate to charity organisations or help out any local small businesses who are struggling to stay afloat.
Spend time outdoors
The benefits of nature for our mental health are well documented. Research shows that spending time in the outdoors can improve your mental wellbeing while making you feel more socially connected, even if you are alone. Next time your mental health starts getting you down, take the opportunity to experience the restorative power of a local green space. If you are fortunate enough to live near a scenic hiking trail, or a stretch of Britain’s beautiful coastline then you are probably already aware of the benefits. It can be a little more difficult if you live in a city, yet even in the busiest urban areas, there are plenty of parks and walking routes to be found.
Take a trip down memory lane
Memory is a powerful tool, and nostalgia has been linked to reduced feelings of loneliness. Reminisce with a loved one about times gone by, or dig out a photo album to relive old memories. By reflecting on the past, you will feel a closer bond with your loved ones.
Find an engaging hobby
One of the most effective ways to take your mind off any mental health issues is by finding an engaging, productive activity to focus on. If you’re like the majority of the UK population, you no doubt have a lot more time on your hands right now, so why not use it to start a new creative hobby. Spruce up your home with some DIY or gardening, or start a new project like completing a jigsaw puzzle or painting.
Do an online workout
Not only is exercise great for your physical and mental health, but it also has a proven effect in reducing feelings of isolation, particularly when exercising with others. There are plenty of free online fitness classes available for any ability. Or if you prefer a one-on-one dynamic, you could even hire an online personal trainer.
Be active in your community
Connection is based on shared interests, so why not find a community of like-minded people to engage with? This could be a local community dedicated to making your neighbourhood a better place to live, or it could be an online group focused on your favourite hobby. Seek out communities around you and engage with others about what matters to you most.
Physical warmth has been shown to have a similar effect on your brain as physical touch. If you are missing human contact, try to recreate the effects by keeping warm. Curl up under a blanket with a cup of tea or take a hot bath and you will instantly notice the feelings of loneliness slipping away.
Look after your mental health
Feeling lonely and isolated for an extended period can be extremely harmful to your mental health, so it is crucial that you look after yourself. Take regular action to improve your mental wellbeing, by reducing the sources of stress and anxiety in your life. In addition to the techniques mentioned above, meditating is a proven way to boost your mental health. If you are struggling, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are numerous mental health helplines that provide emotional support at all hours.