From time to time, many of us will feel lonely. But as you get older, these feelings can become more frequent – especially if you now live alone or can’t get out as much as you’d like. The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6, according to Age UK
But the charity did warn that people of all ages can suffer from loneliness. For example, leaving full-time education can be a vulnerable time for younger people. People can feel lonely for several reasons. If they’ve moved to a new area, recently lost a loved one or are experiencing the onset of illness or disability. These are all common trigger points for loneliness.
In recent times, we’ve also seen how events such as weather and a health pandemic can create unexpected loneliness.
Record levels of flooding in February left many people either stuck in their homes or evacuated. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic means many people are isolating themselves, potentially alone, and with minimal interaction with anyone.
The world can seem frightening and being unable to go about your usual routine can have a knock-on effect on anyone’s wellbeing. And older people living alone can be among those most affected.
Dealing with lonelinessNot only can loneliness make you feel awful, but it can also seriously affect people’s health and well-being. Some of the effects include:
- Increased stress levels
- Decreased memory and learning
- Poor decision-making
- Alcoholism and drug abuse
Source: Very well mind
If you’re feeling lonely, it’s best to start taking action. But when you’re not feeling great, it can be tempting to think nobody would want to hear from you. What’s more, it can feel more difficult during the Coronavirus pandemic. But one positive outcome of these difficult times has been how people have come together in support of each other.
You will have heard of great stories about people’s sense of community getting stronger. Whether that’s neighbors delivering shopping, people checking in with you, or putting up drawings, photos, and print-outs of rainbows for others to spot on a walk, it’s clear we want to look out for one another. Rarely before have people been so grateful for and looked forward to each other’s company.
While recent ONS data has shown that just over half of adults (53.1%) said coronavirus was affecting their well-being, over 2 in 3 (67.9%) also said they thought people are doing more to help others since the coronavirus outbreak. There’s more good news too:
- 54.9% said they have a sense of belonging with other residents in their local community during the coronavirus pandemic
- 57% said other local community members would support them if they needed help during the coronavirus pandemic
We may have had to adapt our lives somewhat, but it’s nice to hear that many people are finding support nearby.
In particular, the way we socialize and spend our leisure time has changed. But it doesn’t have to mean loneliness is inevitable, as there are popular ways to deal with the changes. Staying in touch with friends and family remotely is the most common action that is helping people cope with staying at home (76.9%). But other leisures activities have been popular too:
- Watching films (55.5%>
- Reading (39.2%)
- Gardening (37.6%)
- Cooking (34.2%)
Have you tried any of these? What do you enjoy? Devoting time to the things you enjoy doing is always a good idea if you’re feeling down.
Many will find a natural source of emotional support in friends, family, and neighbors. But some might prefer to speak to someone else. There are other people to talk to:
- Age UK’s free telephone befriending service, Call in Time
- Silverline’s free< a href="https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/telephone-friendship/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener">telephone friendship calls (for people aged 55 and over)
At the moment, any service over the phone is a safe way to make new connections. But you may find a demand for these services is high, so do be patient.
When it is safe to do so, there are also many face-to-face befriending services run by local Age UK's. Volunteers can visit your home, have a cup of tea and a chat. You could also go and enjoy activities together. It can make a huge difference to someone feeling lonely or isolated, and there are many great stories of friendships that have started this way.
Looking after your well-being and safety
If you live alone, it’s important to look after yourself as well as your home. Feeling lonely might make it harder for you to feel motivated to make positive steps. But addressing the following areas can start to have a positive impact on how you’re feeling.
Do you feel like you’re getting too much sleep, or too little? This will affect your mood. Having a caffeinated drink late in the day or spending too much time staring at screens can affect your ability to drift off. It’s easy to fall into the trap of having too many daytime naps when there isn’t much to do. Start to pay attention to your sleeping routine and consider if there’s anything you can do to change it.
A stable blood sugar level can help your mood and energy levels. Eating smaller portions spread throughout the day and avoiding foods that will spike your blood sugar (e.g. sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks) can help regulate your sugar levels. It’s also recommended you stay hydrated (around 6-8 glasses of fluids a day), manage caffeine intake, and of course, eat your five a day.
Mind also warns that some foods can be dangerous to eat if you're taking certain medications:
- MAOI. If you’re taking this kind of antidepressant, you should avoid eating anything which has been fermented, spoiled pickled, smoked, cured, hung, dried, or matured. Foods containing tyramine, typically ones with caffeine, should also be avoided.
- Lithium. You need to be careful with the amount of salt in your diet – changing the amount of salt and fluid in your body can affect lithium levels.
- Buspirone or other anti-anxiety medications. Grapefruit can affect the way enzymes break down certain anti-anxiety medications. This means too much or too little of the drug may be absorbed into your blood, so you’ll need to avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice.
If you’re taking any medication, your doctor should have explained any of these possible side effects. But if you have any worries, speak to them or your local pharmacy for advice.
It’s proven that physical activity can impact your mood. Not only can it release endorphins that make you feel better about yourself, but it can also help you sleep better and manage racing thoughts.
Mind also mentions how it can be a good way to connect with new people. Although this might not be currently possible, when we’re able to socialize again, joining a shared activity like a walking club can help you make new friends.
But for the time being, there are suitable ways to exercise – no matter your age. Joe Wicks has recently hit the headlines for his weekday ‘PE with Joe’ sessions. But not only is he the nation’s PE teacher, but he’s also filmed a series of exercise videos aimed specifically at older people, including chair-based sessions.
If possible, spending time in the fresh air can boost your mood too. Whether this is to do some exercise, which could be something like gardening, or just to relax in your garden, getting outside can help your wellbeing. Under the current government recommendations, there are no restrictions on spending time in your garden. You are also allowed to leave your house to exercise or spend time in a local park.
How to prioritize essential household tasks
If you’ve only recently started living alone, perhaps due to a bereavement, or you’re struggling with your mood, some of the household tasks in the rest of this guide may seem difficult. Indeed, upgrading your windows or boiler may save you money, but taking on new responsibilities can be daunting.
Remember it’s okay to take your time. Planning can be empowering and give you back a bit of control over what needs to be done – and what could wait. Age UK recommends the following steps:
- Make a list of everything you need to do. This includes everything that’s involved in the upkeep of your home. It might feel like you’re writing down a lot, but it helps with the steps later on if you’re honest about what needs to be done. It can include smaller tasks like food shopping or paying bills, as well as larger changes such as getting a smart meter installed.
- Prioritize the tasks. Start to understand the tasks – what is regular? What is urgent? And what is an ad hoc task? Building this understanding can help you realize that not everything can be done at once and should be tackled in smaller chunks.
- Set a schedule for completing the tasks. Start putting in your regular tasks (for example, a weekly clean) and see how much time you have left. Then put in some of the higher priority ad hoc tasks and you’ll start to build a schedule of when you’ll be doing what. Remember these are good achievements and you should be proud when you’ve completed one.
Don’t cram too many tasks into your schedule. Especially during these difficult times, you have to leave yourself some time to relax.