At the time I was sad. Ted had helped me to be less so, but the loneliness that had engulfed me after so much isolation and illness was immense. And it brought to mind a conversation I had shared with dear friends about the difference between abandonment, loneliness and solitude. In my later life I often long for solitude – a word that, for me, has always had positive connotations. Some moments of silence in a field surrounded by nature, times of peace in a meditation retreat. It invokes feelings of connection to nature, to the world, to others and to myself.
But then there is feeling lonely, very different from being alone. Alone is a state of being by oneself. Lonely is an emotion of feeling sad due to isolation. And as we often say you can even feel lonely in a crowded room. It is about a lack of connection – to anyone or anything. Now at this time of COVID I was physically alone (well not quite I had Archie!) but I also felt lonely. Feeling lonely can also be associated with feelings of abandonment, where one feels undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded. And I think this is where it gets really tough.
There is an abundance of research showing the devastating effects of loneliness – both mental and physical – from severe depression and cognitive decline to a rise in blood pressure and even evidence suggesting a 26% increased risk of death. But how do we combat it? What can we do? Well, this week I wanted to suggest a few ways I have managed it, but also ask all you Hubbers to think of just one person you know who may be feeling lonely and reach out and connect with them. Truly connect, and if you can physically, in person. Digital connection has been a saviour during times of COVID, but nothing replaces a good old in-person hug. A conversation. A listening ear. Some shopping dropped at the door or a nourishing meal or treat sent as a surprise. There are so many ways to brighten someone’s day who is feeling isolated, and as somebody who has spent many months and years alone with illness I can tell you they make a MASSIVE difference.
So, to those who may be feeling lonely, here are some of my tips that I hope may give you hope along the way! They are all about CONNECTION.
- Firstly, connection to another human being. If you are able in any way to get out of the house, I would urge you to do it. Even a small chat in the street, with someone in a café, a smile or a hello can really connect you. Remind you there is goodness in the world and give you hope.
- If you are not strong enough to go out, please pick up that phone to a friend (even if you don’t feel like it). Try to connect with another who cares. This can be a game-changer.
- Then there is connection to oneself. This could be via meditation or a contemplative moment. I find this much harder when I am sick if I am honest, and I find medication and illness can play havoc with one’s own connection. Sometimes a bath with candles helps me to connect to myself, or journaling – is there something that works for you?
- Peter Fonagy (Chair of Anna Freud) told me that connection can be to a fictional character too. Particularly for children it could be an imaginary friend, or in my case, Ted Lasso! Feeling connection can come in many surprising ways, it involves feeling understood, feeling there are others out there you can relate to.
- On that note, it can also be to a group of like-minded people or those who have shared interests or experiences. This is more difficult when you are feeling really lonely, but is a good one to think about as a long-term goal. I often look forward to connecting to my meditation group of friends from around the world when I am really unwell. It is on zoom and I can dip in if I want to or just listen if I am not strong enough. But I feel surrounded by love and kindness in those moments.
- How about connection to nature? My mum often tells me to go and sit in the garden and get some fresh air and look at flowers. A walk is even better if you are able, but sometimes just taking the time to stare at the night-sky and feel the awe of the millions of stars can give you a moment of hope and connect you to that feeling that there is something bigger (whatever your spiritual beliefs, which are another connection).
- For me, I love connection to art in all its forms. That could be Ted Lasso on the TV, a good podcast, or a piece of music to lift my spirits. Even just one song can give you that moment of connection that shifts the heaviness of your mindset.
- Connection to a cause, a project or a purpose can help too. I find when I am starting to feel stronger, re-connecting with my passions (eg mental health, the Happynesshub and Bow-Wowza) brings energy and positivity back into my life.
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Archie Archibald, my 42 kilo Black Lab and best friend. It is amazing how much pets can be a genuine tonic for loneliness, they really can. I have watched them ’save lives’. So for those who fancy a furry friend of any size (or scaled or slimy) it may be worth a longer-term think. Archie has been my saviour during COVID.
- Finally, if you are feeling desperately lonely, there are an abundance of very good charities out there to support – you are really only one google away. It may feel like such a hard step to contact one, but I would urge you to remember there is always, always somebody there who cares, you are never truly alone, however much you may feel you are.
“Life is slippery. Here, take my hand.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
And to those Hubbers out there, who are not feeling lonely, I wonder if you could in some way take that step to really make a difference to someone’s life. One of the best things you can do is let others know that you are there and you are available. It really is easier than you think to give someone hope.