This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is “Loneliness”. Spear-headed by the Mental Health Foundation, their press release published earlier in the year stated, “Loneliness affects millions of people in the UK every year and is a key driver of poor mental health. The Foundation’s Mental Health in the Pandemic research has found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 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.”
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Any point of reaching outwards for social engagement, activates our nervous systems and calms our sense of threat, building connection with those around us and cultivating relationships. We are hard wired for this need to be interpersonal in our interactions with the world. Feeling a sense of belonging and being accepted, is the feeling of being heard, being held in mind and being seen by others. Combating loneliness requires bravery to come outside yourself and your comfort zone and overcoming the fear of rejection. Even small little steps to say hello or smile at another human being, does enough to nurtures us feel connected to our fellow human beings.
The more authentic sense of self that is projected into the world, the more others will be drawn towards you. Avoid comparisons with others and find and embrace your own uniqueness. Surround yourself in nature and get outdoor to be connected with the world in which we live. Animals count too and can be a huge way to support mental health, well-being and connection.
Just focusing on taking gradual steps toward reaching outwards, creates potential change. Utilise both online and in person resources and groups that speak to your sense of enjoyment, enables opportunities for risk taking. This bravery to take risks to socially engage in a safe space, relieves the sense of threat and can be magnified by befriending yourself and will support alleviating the sense of disconnection and increase the likelihood of reducing loneliness.
Laura Purser, Head of Primary & Prep Initial Teacher Training at the University of Buckingham