This year's main theme for Mental Health Awareness week is Loneliness. It’s likely that we’ve all felt lonely at times but most of the time it’s for a short period and we mitigate it’s impact by engaging in something fun, or something which absorbs our attention, makes us feel more connected or better about ourselves and shifts our perspective into a better balance once again. However, Covid, isolation, illness, lockdowns and working from home may have all contributed to a greater sense of loneliness for many people over the past few years, and continues to have an impact on mental health and wellness for us and for our colleagues, customers and organisations.
Read on to learn some ways you can help to combat your own loneliness and that of others, plus some Box of Hugs gift ideas
which may help to brighten someone's day.
Mental health awareness week is a wonderful opportunity to play a part in addressing loneliness in general by helping our friends, colleagues, employees, organisations and anyone else we come in contact with in our daily life feel more valued and connected and to strengthen both our and their sense of belonging and community.
If you take a moment to reflect on it you might notice a difference between spending time on your own and feeling lonely. Sometimes you might enjoy some time on your own - some ‘me time’ - away from the busyness of daily life, time to decompress, listen to yourself and refocus. If you’re more of an introvert then spending some time on your own may also be the way you recharge your batteries and process your day - whether it’s having a quiet cup of tea, reading, walking, meditating, jogging, doing a jigsaw, gardening or something else. For others, spending any time alone is challenging and uncomfortable and they process and refocus by being around people. Whatever your preference, ‘me time’ is often something that is for a short period of time and makes you feel good, which can feel very different to feeling lonely.
Feeling lonely may come about for many reasons including as a result of losing a loved one, the person you’ve spent a long time with and who you confided in and so made you feel safe, losing a beloved pet, long term illness, financial difficulties, isolation due to Covid and working from home thereby losing your daily face to face contact with colleagues, losing a job, conflict at work or home, telling yourself you’re not good enough, comparing yourself to others, miscarriage, menopause, difficulties getting pregnant or anything else that leaves you feeling lonely, overwhelmed and like no one understands what you’re feeling or can help.
Whatever the trigger, a long term feeling of loneliness - which persists or is exacerbated by being around people - can have a negative impact on our well-being in many ways - including the way we think, feel, behave, what we do and how we feel about ourselves and our ability to cope with life, events, situations and work. It can also create a viscous circle where we start to feel more lonely and then withdraw from social interactions and events and feel more lonely as a result and our health, mental health and well-being may start to suffer, along with our relationships and our life in general.
The media suggests that many more people have been experiencing more loneliness since covid started, and maybe many more will as the costs of living increase, news of the war and other challenges around the world bombard our senses every day.
But loneliness is something we can all work to change together. We are all important and we all have something to offer and have the power to do something, no matter how small, which helps us and others reconnect with ourselves, our lives, those around us, our communities and the World; that help us to feel part of something bigger and to combat loneliness.
The focus on loneliness this mental health awareness week is a wonderful opportunity to take another step towards change. So, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. If you’re feeling lonely, try starting by acknowledging it and remind yourself that you are important, you are valuable, that this feeling can change and that you are not alone.
2. See if you can identify where your feeling of loneliness stems from - is it:
* something that has happened?
* something you’ve been telling yourself such as ‘I’m rubbish at my job’, ‘everyone else is better than me’, ‘I’m too ….’,
* from something that you’ve stopped doing eg stopped your usual exercise routine if you’re now working from home, stopped eating well, stopped going out and doing things you used to enjoy or that made you feel good - clubs, groups, exercise etc maybe as a result of Covid lockdowns?
* something physiological or emotional? Illness, insomnia, anxiety, depression, fear etc?
Identifying where it stems from might give you a first indication of what you could change in order to start to reduce your feeling of loneliness and build up your feeling of connection.
3. If you have an idea where the loneliness stems from - try asking yourself whether there is something small you can do or change that might start reducing your feeling of loneliness - is it about taking steps to:
* look after yourself better?
* arrange to meet a friend or start going to a group or club again?
* plan something fun to look forward to?
* find ways of building more face to face contact with people into your day/week
Maybe you’re still working from home and spending a lot of time on your own, are looking after a baby and feeling isolated, or are managing an illness or have caring responsibilities which mean you’re not doing the things that used to help you feel good and more connected with yourself and others.
4. Whether you have an idea or are not sure how to help yourself, ask yourself whether you need some form of external help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by something or by the way you feel, asking for help can feel scary. But asking for help is a strength and takes courage. So, whether it’s financial, physical, emotional, psychological, practical support you need, find someone who can help. Maybe it's:
* your GP
* a friend or family member
* your bank
* a financial adviser
* an EAP
* a counsellor or grief therapist
* a coach
* an advocate
* a befriending or support service
* a mental health service
or someone else there will be someone who can help.
Whatever is leaving you feeling lonely and is impacting on your mental health and well-being, remember you are not alone, there is always someone out there who can and will listen and who can help - so take a deep breath and ask someone for help.
What else might give us the boost we need to start tackling a feeling of loneliness for ourselves and for others?
1. Look after yourself: Sometimes we blame ourselves or beat ourselves up for what’s happening or how we’re feeling. This Mental Health Awareness Week why not practice being your own best friend - be kind to yourself, eat, sleep and listen to your own needs. You’re important and reflecting for a moment on how you’re feeling may give you a clue about what needs to change for you to feel more connected with yourself and others again.
2. Get outside: go outside, look up, breathe. Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed or anxious or overwhelmed our breathing becomes shallower, our thinking becomes more restricted, and it can feel like the World has narrowed and we can’t see how we can change it. Going outside, taking a breath, moving our body and looking up can sometimes remind us that there’s a bigger World out there and it’s a way to start creating some space in our heads and bodies for some possible solutions to arise.
3. Get moving: put on your favourite music or exercise class or get out for a walk and get your body moving. This can help move stuck energy in our bodies - which keeps our minds and bodies tense and limits our ability to think clearly - and thereby can help us feel more connected to our bodies, and begin to open up our options.
4. Call a friend or loved one for a catch up or to arrange a meet up: having something to look forward to can give us a much needed boost - particularly after the restrictions of the past few years. We’re social beings and face to face connection and hugs are important for our sense of well-being.
5. Do something fun that brings you into the present and reconnects you with your body: whether that be exercise, absorbing yourself in a book, a puzzle, your favourite film. Doing something that makes you feel good and is being kind to yourself can help you realise you’re ok in this moment. If you are at any risk or in any danger though - please seek help.
6. Watch or listen to something that makes you feel good or makes you laugh: when was the last time you had a really good laugh, the kind that makes your belly ache? They say "laughter is the best medicine" yet this may have been reduced or lacking for many over the past few years. So think back to the last time you really laughed out loud - where were you, who were you with, what made you laugh? Feel it and experience it again. Or watch your favourite comedian, listen to a podcast, watch your pets or kids playing, talk to that friend who always knows what to say to make you laugh or something else. Invite joy and laughter back into your life. It’s great for feeling more connected whilst giving you a boost of happy hormones.
7. Join or re-join a group or club in your local area. It can be anxiety-provoking going to a new club or group for the first time and that’s completely normal for many people, particularly having had our activities and social interactions limited for so long by Covid restrictions. Remind yourself that it’s ok to feel nervous and that it will get easier the more you do something. Sometimes finding a group or activity that involves doing something can be easier to go to because it takes immediate focus off you - you’ve got a shared interest to talk about and an activity to particulate in. There are so many groups and clubs starting up and meeting face to face again - from walking groups, reading groups, meet up groups, University of the Third Age activities and talks, church choirs, Zumba classes or Adult Learning Courses where you can build new skills and learn new things. Or connect with a support groups such as Mind, Mens Sheds groups - sharing skills in community spaces - Restore and many many more. For inspiration look in your local papers, online, speak to your GP surgery or look up your local higher education college. It’s a great time to go and do what you’ve always wanted to do and to feel part of something. You are important and you have something to give.
8. Volunteer - if you’ve got time on your hands and want to be around people whilst doing something helpful, why not try volunteering? Giving and feeling useful can give us a boost and there are so many different options, whether on a one-off basis such as volunteering to help at a charity race or event to longer-term options such as helping out on local projects - maybe litter picking, planting trees, helping people read and learn or volunteering at food banks, charities or charity shops. Or start closer to home - if you know someone who lives nearby and is unwell or isolated for any reason, is there something small you could do for them? Pop in and say hello, pick up a prescription or some shopping for them, offer to take their dog for a walk, offer to keep someone company while their partner/carer goes out for a much needed break, or something else? Communities have been so cut off over the past few years, but now is an opportunity to work together, to rebuild our communities and to reconnect with ourselves and our world and to combat loneliness.
These are things you can do on your own but why not invite a friend of family member to join you and make an even more shared experience.
Send a thoughtful gift
Sometimes when we are feeling lonely, anxious or stressed it can make all the difference just to know we have friends and family looking out for us. So whether it's a quick call, a text or a little hug in the post, we can all help combat loneliness this week by reaching out to friends, colleagues and loved ones we haven't spoken to for a while to let them know we care. Receiving a gift in the post is such a lovely, tangible way of sending a hug and giving someone a boost when you can't be there and, with this in mind, we wanted to highlight a few of our most popular ready-made Box of Hugs:
Send a pampering hug: to remind them to look after themselves. You can build your own box or choose from our ready made pampering gifts, maybe include biscuits, a mug, a hot drink, and a pampering set so there's something in here to help them feel looked after inside and out.
For the book lover: our 'Good Book & a Cuppa Hug' and 'A Little Reflection Hug' are two great options for a moment of escapism. Choose a book and mug to go with this tasty selection of snacks in the 'Good Book & a Cuppa Hug' box or opt for the very popular 'The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse' book - an uplifting reflection on the power of friendship - along with your choice of mug, some tea and delicious biscuits in our 'A Little Reflection Hug' option.
For an uplifting boost: our 'You're Amazing in Every Way' and 'Choose Happy Hugs' say it all. With a selection of chocolate and biscuit foody-treats and a 'You're Amazing in Every Way' hug token to carry with them or a 'Choose Happy' inspiring quotations flip book and a mug of your choice to remind them how great you think they are and to look for the good in each moment.
For something to help them focus on the present: opt for one of our activity gifts such as a jigsaw, a puzzle book or seeds to plant. We recently bought a puzzle and put it together on our kitchen table, whilst drinking tea and having a catch up. It can help take the pressure off a conversation and may even help people open up at the same time. Our Great British Puzzle Book is a way to break the cycle of lonely, anxious, worrying or negative thoughts by giving our brain something else to focus on. Who knows what insights might arise if we can clear some space in our minds.
Take care of yourselves and others.
The Box of Hugs Team xox