How to deal with loneliness during the winter months

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Health Assured team

15 November 2022

At Health Assured, we’ve seen a 40% increase in calls to our mental health helpline over the winter months.

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, more and more people spend prolonged periods alone. As a result, feelings of loneliness and social isolation become more common. According to recent statistics, 1-in-4 adults feel lonely some or all of the time.

Additionally, with the rising cost of living, many people have been forced to live more frugally. And as a result are choosing to forgo social activities, which further promotes social isolation. In this article, we will discuss loneliness: what causes it, how it impacts health and ways you can cope with and overcome these negative emotions.

 

Loneliness and health

Loneliness is not a mental health problem in and of itself. It is, however, closely linked to poor mental health. Constant feelings of loneliness can lead to mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety. 

Prolonged loneliness and social isolation can also lead to chronic stress, high blood pressure and inflammation, which can significantly promote physical disorders. For example, poor social relationships are associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. 

 

Causes of loneliness

Many things can cause loneliness. Pinning down the root cause of your feelings isn’t an easy task. When swarmed with loneliness, it’s hard to decipher the root of why you might be feeling the way you’re feeling. It doesn’t always have to be physical isolation that triggers the emotion. Other common causes include: 

  • Experiencing a bereavement 
  • Having financial problems 
  • Moving to a new area (away from friends and family) 
  • Social anxiety 

Tip: If you’re struggling to identify the cause, try writing down how you feel. Writing down emotions can help you to gain some perspective on things. 

 

Signs/symptoms of loneliness

The signs and symptoms of loneliness vary from person to person. Sometimes it is hard to identify when loneliness is the emotion you’re feeling. You might think it’s just a low mood or you’ve been feeling lost. Here are some of the identifiers of loneliness:

Sleep: when people feel lonely, they tend to experience a change in their sleeping patterns, feeling more or less tired than usual.

Spending money: people who are feeling lonely may spend money on ‘unnecessary’ things to fill the void. 

Eating habits: over-eating or under-eating are closely linked to depression.  Some people would console themselves by eating too much, while others would lose their appetite and find other ways to make themselves feel better.

Communication: inconsistency in communication patterns such as phoning and messaging more or less frequently.

Physical health: aside from sleep deprivation, loneliness can also lead to poor heart health and a weakened immune system. 

From the above, it becomes clear that when someone is dealing with loneliness, it is important that they find ways to cope with and manage these emotions.

 

How to cope with loneliness

It is possible to overcome loneliness, but it does require effort on your part for changes to happen. In the long run, taking that first step will help you feel happier and healthier. Below, we have provided 5 tips to help you overcome loneliness and social isolation:

 

  1. Volunteer

Helping a local charity or community group is a great way to combat loneliness. In a recent study involving 10,000 volunteers, 68% of participants agreed that volunteering helped them feel less isolated.

The same study also found that 77% of participants agreed that volunteering had improved their mental health and wellbeing. As a result, volunteering can help reduce the negative feelings associated with loneliness and give you a sense of purpose as you help those in need.

 

  1. Talking therapy

Dealing with loneliness and social isolation can be overwhelming. If you feel ready, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Those wishing to seek treatment should not feel ashamed. Talking to a professional takes a lot of trust and courage.

Through counselling, you can explore who you are, identify your values and work on your health and wellbeing. Therapy can help you understand why you feel lonely, which can help you combat the cause of these feelings. It can also provide coping skills and help you become more social.

 

  1. Stay connected

It’s essential to stay in touch with your friends and family during the winter months. These individuals play a vital role in protecting your mental health by fostering a sense of belonging and purpose. Whenever you feel lonely, you should call your friends or spend quality time with your family. They’ll appreciate it as much as you do.

 

  1. Keep yourself busy

During the winter months, and with the rising cost of living, more and more people are choosing to stay in and avoid social activities. Keeping yourself busy can be an effective way to combat loneliness. It doesn’t have to cost anything; it could involve learning a new skill, taking time out for self-care or hanging out with friends or family. These moments of enjoyment offer opportunities to distract yourself and make social connections.

 

  1. Celebrate yourself

Remember, you are not alone. 1-in-4 people feel lonely and are trying to find the best ways to overcome these feelings. All you need to do is give yourself constant encouragement. These can be verbal reminders, like saying something positive to yourself each morning, or physical reminders, such as leaving positive notes on your desk at work. These small moments of positivity can help cheer you up and help you stay motivated. 

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