The loneliness solution

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Our busy modern lifestyles are increasingly isolating. We explore the reasons why and find ways to combat the problem.

All by yourself? A report from the Mental Health Foundation has found one in 10 people frequently experiences loneliness, while 42 per cent of us have been depressed because we felt alone at some point in our lives.

This unwanted solitude doesn’t just take a toll on our emotional wellbeing, it can lead to poorer functioning of the immune and cardiovascular systems, too. Social interaction – skin-to-skin contact in particular – leads to production of the hormone oxytocin, which helps maintain a healthy heart. There’s also evidence to suggest  loneliness makes it harder to control the habits and behaviour that lead to health problems; according to the same report, lonely middle-aged adults drink more alcohol, have poorer diets and take less exercise than the socially contented.

So what’s behind this loneliness explosion? Well, it seems the blame lies squarely with modern life, and the way in which it impacts on our ability to connect with others. We may have more freedom and opportunities than ever before, but they come at a huge price. We’re now more likely to live alone, away from our families and the communities in which we grew up. The percentage of single-person households doubled from six per cent in 1972 to 12 per cent in 2008, while the divorce rate has also doubled over the past 50 years.

There are plenty of reasons why people feel lonely nowadays, from working long hours to the increased use of social media, but what can we do to combat it?

In the long term, it’s important to be honest with yourself and work out what needs to change about your lifestyle to stop yourself feeling isolated. ‘Take some time to consider how the loneliness has come about,’ suggests personal development specialist Jane C Woods (www.changingpeople.co.uk). ‘You may have distanced yourself from other people without realising it, or even done so on purpose.

‘It’s also worth considering the unspoken messages you’re sending out. If being lonely is making you feel unhappy, you may – albeit unwittingly – be giving off an air of misery, which is acting as a barrier between you and others. Check your reflection throughout the day, and try to stand tall, hold your head up and smile. So much of our communication is non-verbal, so if you’re not consciously in charge of that message, you could be sabotaging your relationships.’

Ultimately, though, don’t be afraid to ask for help – either from a close friend or a professional, such as a therapist or life coach. Sometimes it can take a little while to unravel the reasons why we feel the way we do, but even in our hectic, high-speed modern world, nobody should ever have to feel alone.

QUICK-FIX TIPS TO BANISH LONELINESS                                        

1. Never go a day without speaking to someone you love – No matter how busy you are (texting and social networking sites don’t count!)

2. Think about what you like doing – then find a way to do it with other people. So if you enjoy reading, join a book group. Like going for long runs? Persuade a friend or colleague to come with you, or check out local running clubs.

3. Revamp your wardrobe – ‘What you wear reflects who you are on the inside,’ explains relationships expert Karen Smedley (www.experiencematters.org.uk). ‘If you want to be treated differently, give out a different signla.’

4. Try something new – If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language or try life drawing, for example, sign up for evening classes and you’ll meet plenty of like-minded people.

5. Learn to mediatate – ‘It’s a really good way to enjoy your own company and a skill to fall back on whenever you do feel lonely,’ says Smedley.

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