The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is loneliness
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. With more people working from home, real connections have never been more important and choosing to meet in person or make a phone call over a message can make a real difference.
Loneliness affects millions of people in the UK and can be a key driver of poor mental health. COVID-19 had many of us experiencing loneliness in a new way. Social distancing was heavily enforced and lockdowns meant that people were experiencing social isolation. Feelings of loneliness was a side effect. It is important for employers to incorporate guidance and awareness into their mental health agenda because it is estimated that in the UK over 9 million people suffer from loneliness.
What does loneliness feel like?
Anyone can be affected by loneliness and it can be triggered by anything from relationship breakdowns, moving house/country, bereavement or community or workplace isolation. Loneliness causes people to feel empty and unwanted and it can play into your mental well-being. Loneliness is proven to have a detrimental effect on your body and state of mind, feelings of loneliness are personal and everyone’s experience of it will be different.
Do people understand loneliness?
What does it mean to feel lonely? Loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can be alone and totally at peace or you can be surrounded by hundreds of people and feel completely alone. You can feel alone in a relationship and completely fulfilled as a single person. Loneliness generally means a person is experiencing unpleasant emotions due to a trigger they have experienced. This leaves them feeling isolated and disconnected from others. It is a complex state of mind, and many people experience loneliness despite having lots of close friends and family surrounding them. It has a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health and is very much associated with a range of mental health problems including depression suicidal thoughts and anxiety.
Signs of loneliness
As mentioned above loneliness can differ depending on who you are and what you are dealing with. However here are some signs you may be suffering from loneliness.
One of the biggest indicators of workplace loneliness can be when someone has problems connecting with others on a much deeper or more intimate level. Engagement with colleagues is lacking and the feeling of disconnection is constant and is can feel overwhelming. Feeling somewhat disconnected from work and peers can lead to further feelings of lack of belonging which in turn can have a huge impact on your productivity. Working from home can contribute to feeling lonely because social interactions are less often with people relying on screen chat instead.
How can I manage Loneliness?
Take your time
You need to take your time to recognise and respect your feelings. The need for connections in your life, especially at work is a natural feeling to have, the need it routed in the ancient need to be part of a community in order to survive (other tribes, wild animals etc). We are social beings and acknowledging your feelings of loneliness at work are the starting point.
Have you reached out for support? Recognising who you can rely on is really important as you can then find support and work towards a solution. This person could be your manager, boss, or a peer you feel like you have a good bond with.
External support is also available. The Samaritans a registered charity that is aimed at providing emotional support to anyone struggling. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free anytime from any phone on 116 123.
Mind, a mental health charity, can provide advice and support to empower anyone struggling with a mental health problem.
If you need non-urgent information about mental health support and services that may be available to you: Contact them from any phone on 0300 123 3393. Or Email email@example.com.
Communicating about how you feel is not a weakness. If you feel as though your workload is spiralling out of control and you are feeling isolated, you need be able to talk about your well-being. Speaking up helps to normalise mental health conversations at work about loneliness. You could find yourself listening to others speak out about it and it can be powerful way to show you have each other backs.
Look after yourself
Feeling lonely can be very hard on your wellbeing so it’s important you don’t find yourself trying to suppress those feelings with substances or lifestyle changes.
Have a focus on what you are feeding your body. Make sure your diet is healthy, and you are eating regularly to stable your mood and energy levels.
Exercise can change your mind-set and self-esteem so it’s important to get out even if it’s a 10-minute walk.
Avoid drugs and alcohol these are only a short-term fix and make you feel worse preventing you from tackling the issues you are dealing with.
From a business perspective, it is important to build a culture where connections are encouraged within the workplace. Being assigned a buddy or mentor can do a lot more than help someone settle in. A buddy system sets up an environment where someone can reach out for support or guidance related to either work or non-work issues.
It’s not always possible for the person who is experiencing poor mental health to open up, so it is important that team members look out for colleagues. Don’t always assume that if you ask someone how they are and they respond that they are ok that they really are ok. Sometimes they might need asking a few times. Try to avoid messages and take the time to speak to people face to face. If this isn’t possible teams, video meetings are a good substitute but the main focus should be on creating strong connections over superficial conversations.
Loneliness can have a serious effect on your health, so it’s important to be able to recognise signs of loneliness in colleagues and yourself. Anyone can experience loneliness and it can be different for everyone. By taking the time to read this you are already taken the first steps in tackling your feelings and seeking support.