03 FEB 2021
Spending time alone can be both restorative and necessary to re-charge your batteries. Studies show that spending time alone increases our empathy for others, improves our creativity and increases autonomy and self-efficacy. Loneliness, on the other hand, is not the same as being alone. Loneliness does not discriminate and can be felt just as intensely when you are in a room full of people, as when you are on your own. Everyone can feel lonely occasionally, but long periods of isolation can have a negative impact, physically and mentally.
Loneliness – what is it?
Loneliness is described by Beyond Blue as ‘a feeling of a lack of companionship or quality relationships with other people’. Physically, it can manifest itself in several ways in your body; feeling tired and lethargic, suffering bouts of insomnia, and you may experience physical aches or pains. Loneliness is a risk factor for heart disease, doubles the risk of obesity, and is associated with the same risk of premature death as diabetes. Mentally, you are more likely to have symptoms of depression, become numb to a range of emotions, and have poor mental health when you are lonely.
Who does it affect, or who is at risk?
Anyone can experience loneliness, but adolescents, the elderly, and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are more susceptible. Over 2.3 million Australians are living on their own. The past year has been incredibly challenging with mandatory isolation stretching from weeks to months forcing many into solitude.
Despite the high numbers of people experiencing solitude and loneliness, too many people find admitting to feeling lonely and asking for help extremely difficult. There is often stigma of shame attached to loneliness – that we are somehow to blame, so it is kept secret. However, not reaching out and telling our loved ones that we are struggling further compounds the feelings of loneliness.
I’m lonely, what can I do?
Having strategies you can turn to when you start to feel those pangs of loneliness creeping in can assist in helping to keep it at bay. Having a connection with people decreases our feelings of loneliness and increases our feelings of security, support and sense of belonging. There are many ways we can connect.
Regardless of your state’s isolation status, it is easy to keep in touch through social media, telephone communication and video telecommunications such as Zoom. Make a plan with a friend, colleague or family member, who may also be experiencing loneliness, to check in with each other every morning.
One of the best ways to connect is to seek out opportunities that would immerse you into the wider community. Volunteering can provide you with a sense of purpose, make you feel part of a team, help you meet new people and even make new friends.
Here at Lifeline WA, we have plenty of opportunities for volunteering. One of those opportunities is the Community Visitor Scheme (CVS). In this programme, we have volunteers from all walks of life who regularly provide companionship to the most vulnerable in our society, those in the aged care sector. Whether it is listening to stories over a cup of tea or going for short walks, you can contribute to someone’s life in a positive way, whilst also making a meaningful difference in yours. For more information on our CVS programme visit: https://www.lifelinewa.org.au/Community-Visitor-Volunteering, or email our friendly CVS Co-ordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Department of Health also lists being active as a way of connecting with others. Joining a walking group is one way of keeping fit while connecting with others. Additionally, the natural environment has a calming effect on your mood, and exercise is also shown to improve your concentration and confidence.
Whichever strategy you choose, it is clear that connection not only helps your loneliness, mental health and physical health, but the health of others also.
For more information on how to manage your psychological health during lockdown, go here.
If you are feeling lonely and need to talk to someone confidentially, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Written by Tanya Gurr