Even at the best of times, living on your own can be difficult, but especially now during this lockdown period, there are many of us struggling with loneliness.
Firstly, it’s important to realise you aren’t alone with these feelings, there are many lonely people, especially at the minute. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four of UK adults said they had experienced feelings of social isolation during lockdown and there are many ways to help beat feelings of loneliness.
It can be tempting, and a whole lot easier to just keep yourself to yourself, and many of us worry about being a burden or simply feel embarrassed that we’re by ourselves. But reaching out to the people around you could have a real positive impact on your mental health.
"Loneliness is not a pleasant feeling but it is very common – particularly if you have recently experienced a life transition such as a relationship breakdown, bereavement or retirement," says Amy Perrin from loneliness support charity, The Marmalade Trust.
Here are Amy's top tips for making friends, reconnecting and combating loneliness.
1. Make friends with your neighbours
The best place to start when making friends is often at home, so it's a good idea to first get friendly with your neighbours.
"Reach out and say hello, or take something round to a neighbour. Are you a baker? Take round a cake? Or Invite someone for a socially distanced cuppa in your garden.
"You could even ask for help with something – taking bins out etc it can be a good way to strike up a conversation (and people usually like to feel helpful)".
After all this is over, it's likely that people will want to come together more than ever, so why not organise yourself a street party?
"Street parties don’t take much organising, most councils have easy ways to close the road and few notes in neighbours door to inform of time and day and what to bring. Even in times of socially distancing, it can be a great way to get to meet everyone. Just be aware of your safety when getting more familiar with your neighbours – they should NOT charge you for getting shopping, putting bins out or any other tasks. Speak to a trusted friend or family member if this is happening."
Read more: Shelia Hancock on combatting loneliness
Volunteering in your community is a great way to feel useful and meet new people says Amy.
"Some organisations are set up to support older people in volunteering, such as charities like RSVP.
"Do you have a skill that could be put to use? For example, if you know a thing or two about accountancy - could you be a treasurer? Or do you like to chat? Could you be a telephone befriender and support someone who is feeling very isolated?"
3. Embrace technology
There are so many online groups and clubs that exist on social media, and you might find that many more have popped up because of the pandemic. Start by using a search engine like Google to search for online communities of like-minded people who might be feeling lonely too.
"There are many meet up groups (who have been moving to socially distanced methods during this time); and forums and discussion places like the Yours FitMind50 group or gransnet. Do you have a particular interest and or would like to learn more or share your knowledge - join online groups about a particular subject that interests you ie. History, music or crafts.
"There are also platforms that you can use to stay in contact with friends and family, such as Facebook and WhatsApp – on most of these platforms you can use video calling, which is another great way to ‘see’ friends and family from a distance, whether you're still isolating, or they live far away."
You can also make friends in the real world too, through online groups such as www.meetup.com where you can find out all about events and clubs in your local area (post-lockdown of course). Whether you’re passionate about walking, crafts, reading, or anything in between, you’re sure to meet like-minded people. Men might benefit from joining www.menssheds.org.uk which organises workshops and projects in giant shared sheds!
4. Get out and about
Some shops and attractions may still be closed at the minute, but nature isn’t. Head outdoors and you’ll be amazed at how many families, dog walkers and individuals are getting a spot of fresh air and improve your physical health. These people are generally much more open to chatting with strangers – say a friendly hello and get a conversation going.
"There are many opportunities at the moment to spark up a conversation with strangers" says Amy. "For instance – in the queue for the supermarket. Whilst socially distanced, you can strike up conversation with someone in the queue- talk about the weather! Give someone a compliment (I love your dress!) Small opening comments can get people chatting."
"If you can, shop local – often smaller shops and grocery stores will have similar people working there and it can be easier to have regular conversations and build up friendships. If you can, avoid self service checkouts – use the opportunity to have a chat with the shop worker whilst packing your shopping."
5. Make virtual friends
If you find it hard to get out and about or you're shielding because of health problems, you could join a support community like www.elefriends.org.uk where you can build friendships and chat with people about how you are feeling from the comfort of your own home – perfect if you can’t get out and about. Don’t forget, Yours also has a FitMind50 Facebook group where readers are always looking to have a good chat.
"Everyone is different! Do what suits you best - Do you want to call on the telephone? Or see each other in your own environment using video calling or maybe emailing suits you better?
"Get to know each other – ask each other questions to find out more about each other – where did you go to school, do you have any pets, what music do you like. Find a convenient time to catch up – so that all parties are not distracted and have time to chat."
6. Cook a casserole
If you love a home-cooked meal but don’t always fancy cooking for yourself, sign up to be a diner in the Casserole Club – a scheme that encourages home cooks to make an extra portion of a meal to share with someone who is on their own. If you like to cook, you could signup to provide meals for someone else.
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Find out if there are participants in your area by calling 0203 475 3444 or visit www.casseroleclub.com
You can also cook while listening to music to give you an extra feel good boost! Whether you love Motown or can't get enough of these iconic dance songs, music can often lift your mood like nothing else!
7. Have a chat
Age UK offers a Befriending service that can pair you up with a local volunteer for regular home visits, where you can enjoy a cup of tea and a natter. Alternatively, there’s also a Call in Time phone befriending service, where a volunteer will call you on a regular basis for a chat.
For information on either call 0800 169 2081 or visit www.ageuk.org.uk
Other ways to feel less lonely
Most areas have social prescribers – often linked to GP surgeries, give them a call and say you are interested in finding a local social prescribing service – they will get in contact and tell you all about the local connection opportunities.
Reach out and talk to friends and family about how you would like to make some new friends – they might be able to help make some suggestions.
Find a friend with Yours - pick up a copy of Yours magazine and appeal for friendship in the magazine.
Remember, if you feel like your health and wellbeing is being affected by loneliness, it is important to discuss this with a health professional or GP, who will be able to give you more support and advice.
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