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This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 9-15 May, will explore the experience of loneliness, its effect on our mental health and how we can all play a part in reducing loneliness in our communities. In this article, SHP's Heather Beach provides some tips on how to avoid loneliness when working from home.

Loneliness affects millions of people in the UK every year and is a key driver of poor mental health. The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health in the Pandemic research found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. The Foundation has been tracking loneliness levels in the UK during the pandemic and found the experience has been much higher with devastating impact. Loneliness has been an important factor contributing to higher levels of distress, resulting from people’s sense of isolation and reduced ability to connect with others. Further polling also found that loneliness was one of the leading issues that the public felt needed to be addressed.

The week will raise awareness of the impact of loneliness on our mental wellbeing and the practical steps we can take to address it. Reducing loneliness is a major step towards a mentally healthy society.

The theory

In today’s world where many of us are working more and more from home, we may forget our basic human need for social connection. That which came easily to us in an office environment, we may now need to proactively develop new routines.

What the research says….

Humans are inherently social creatures; we are biologically, cognitively, physically and spiritually wired to belong. From an evolutionary perspective we were built to compete but also to collaborate within our tribes.

Two studies from the journal Nature suggest:

  • Being social became a key strength for the primate ancestors of humans when they switched from foraging for food by night to carrying out their activities by day (which rendered them more vulnerable to a wider range of predators).
  • Early man may have evolved a basic form of language because they needed more advanced communication to share ideas. This, they say, helped our ancestors to develop tools that allowed them to live better and evolve further.

Developing self-awareness

Some of us need greater connection than others. We may change over time, but at our core we may find we are greater.

  • Extroverts – get their energy from being with other people
  • Introverts – get their energy from being alone.
  • Ambiverts – need a balance of both.

To see which you are try a questionnaire, such as this one.

Even the most introverted among us will benefit (happiness wise) from three more social interactions a week (according to researcher Sonja Lyubomirski).

Other questions to ask ourselves

  • That feeling of emerging anxiety – could it be to do with lack of connection?
  • How much connection do you need – are you more introvert/extrovert/ambivert?
  • Do you have people in your life to turn to in an emergency e.g. health?
  • Do you know who the most important people in your life are?
  • Do you hang on to friends because you have known them a long time but they drain your energy?
  • How energised/relaxed do you feel after meeting a particular friend?
  • Do you lack confidence when it comes to chatting to strangers?
  • Do you prefer big groups or small ones/one to one?

How do I prevent loneliness?

There is benefit from looking at both areas of connection

Developing close relationships
More small talk with strangers

Developing close relationships:

  • Ask more questions and be vulnerable yourself.
  • Trust is built when you are authentic, empathetic and perceived as competent.
  • You can create the conditions for belonging when you are open and vulnerable as well as when you are empathetic toward others.
  • Developing listening skills – signal acceptance and help ensure the people around them feel safe, by asking questions, listening and demonstrating focused attention.
  • Deep/meaningful conversation leads to greater life satisfaction.

More small talk:

Be the first to smile or to pay a compliment (with a question at the end). If they don’t engage it has nothing to do with you.

Studies show more day-to-day interactions with other people—even sharing a quick smile with a stranger in a coffee shop—associated with greater feelings of belonging and subjective wellbeing.
Engaging with strangers and acquaintances – the brief, micro interactions we all have on a daily basis – can have amazing benefits as well, with reduced rates of depression.” (Sharp, UT Sydney).
“Theory of weak ties”, people who have many acquaintances beyond their close networks tend to be happier than those with smaller networks. (Granovetter, 1973).

Small habit changes (1% theory).

  • Say hello to one person on your street every day
  • Make a list of the people you want to be closest to
  • Do a call/voice message/visit a week with one of those people
  • Get up 15 minutes early and walk round the block before you start work/go for a coffee
  • Develop a post work routine – go outside
  • Say nice things to yourself when you perceive yourself to have made a mistake – you did your best/you tried/you learnt something – well done

This is an area we can all build competence in and are constantly trying to seek the right balance…

Remember also there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Being happy with our own company is also a skill to develop!

The Healthy Work Company provides workshops and ‘lunch ‘n learns’ on a number of resilience related topics, including this one.

EC Safety Solutions deliver various First Aid for Mental Health Courses either from our office in Strood, Kent or via our eLearning platform

Courses on offer are: 

  • Level 1 Award in Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health in the workplace - 1/2 day. 
  • Level 2 Award in First Aid for Mental Health in the workplace - 1 day. 
  • Level 3 Award in Supervising First Aid for Mental Health in the workplace - 2 days.
  • Various Mental Health eLearning Awareness Courses 

Contact Steve W on 08001930246 for more info on the courses available

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