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Call to action to tackle loneliness and isolation over the festive period

10 December 2019

Colin Cox

Many people can feel lonely and isolated over the festive period – and you can help!

Colin Cox, Cumbria County Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “Our communities are where we have our homes and they affect how we feel.

“Our neighbours can be both a vital source of support or a reminder of how lonely we are and this becomes clearer than ever in winter when the nights draw in and temperatures fall.

“Older adults, relatives and neighbours are more vulnerable in the winter months and may need a bit of extra help. If you suspect someone may be lonely, why not call in on them more regularly to see how they are?

“If they cannot get out and about as much during the winter, why not offer to run some errands for them or do their weekly shop when you do yours?

“Small gestures can go a long way so we must all make sure we keep in touch, pop in for a cuppa, check if others are feeling ok and check if people have enough food or medicines before a spell of bad weather.”

It’s important to remember that while older people can feel lonelier and more isolated at Christmas and over the New Year, loneliness and isolation happen all year round and can affect people of all ages.

However, Christmas and the New Year can be good times for us to connect with each other and help others to feel less lonely.

Over the winter months Bay Health and Care Partners (BHCP) are promoting various ways of coping with loneliness and isolation.

BHCP includes University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group (MBCCG), Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, the GP Providers Alliance, Cumbria County Council, Lancashire County Council, Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS).

The festive period can bring up painful memories or worsen difficult feelings often related to family or relationship issues, financial or health worries, to name but a few.

Pressure to be having a good time or comparing your life with someone else’s can be too much. Even with friends and family around you, that sense of being alone with difficult thoughts or feelings, can make it seem as if you have no one to turn to.

You can help people who may be feeling lonely and isolated by making time to talk over the festive period and throughout the rest of the year.

It could be when you are doing your shopping at the supermarket, when you are at the pub or out for a walk. Just saying a simple “hello” and having a chat could make a difference to someone who is lonely and isolated from society.

Take the time to speak to your friends and family who you won’t be with this Christmas. A ten-minute phone call can have a big impact. Ring the doorbell and give a Christmas card to your neighbour. Start a conversation and make a connection.

Get in touch with your local care home or homeless centre and ask if they might need some support this Christmas and New Year. Lend a helping hand with the cooking or even entertaining the residents.

Bake or buy some mince pies and share them with your friends and neighbours. Do you have a spare chair at your dinner table? Know a neighbour who might be alone? Inviting them to join you for Christmas dinner could make a huge difference to them.

Hosting a Christmas or New Year party? Don’t forget to invite your neighbours. If there’s anyone in your community who might be alone, send them an invite. The more the merrier!

Here are some additional tips for coping with loneliness and isolation:

Take it slow: If you’ve felt lonely for a long time, even if you already know lots of people, it can be terrifying to think about trying to meet new people or opening up to people for the first time but you don’t need to rush into anything. Start off by going somewhere like a cafe, the cinema or a sports event where you can be around people, but not be expected to talk to them – you may find that simply being around other people is enough to help with your feelings of loneliness.

Make new connections: If you are feeling lonely because of a lack of satisfying social contact in your life, you could try to meet more or different people. Try to join a class or group based on your hobbies or interests. If you are able to, volunteering is a good way of meeting people. Helping others can also really help improve your mental health. It is also a good idea to check that you will receive adequate support from the organisation you are volunteering at.

Try peer support: There are many different types of peer support service, which provide people with a space to use their own experiences to help and support each other, including experiences of loneliness and related mental health problems.

Try a befriender service: Various charities offer telephone and face-to-face befriender servicers, which put volunteer befrienders in touch with people feeling lonely.

Join an online community: These communities can provide a place to listen and share with others who have similar experiences. They are available 24/7, most are free and you can access them wherever you are.

Try to open up: You might feel that you know plenty of people, but what is actually wrong is that you don’t feel close to them, or they don’t give you the care and attention you need. In this situation it might help to open up about how you feel to friends and family. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to the people you know, you could try speaking with a therapist or a using a peer support service. Be brave and reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face; you could share a post on social media

Talking therapies: Talking therapies allow you to explore and understand your feelings of loneliness and can help you develop positive ways of dealing with them. For example, therapy can provide a space for you to discuss the emotional problems that make it hard for you to form satisfying relationships. If anxiety about social situations has made you feel isolated, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help. This focuses on how your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes affect your feelings and behaviour and teaches you coping skills for dealing with.

Social care: While there is no legal solution to loneliness, there may be ways in which the law can help you if you have needs for care and support. The Care Act 2014 in England places general obligations on local authorities to promote wellbeing and to prevent social care needs from arising. They also contain specific duties for local authorities to help individuals.

Be careful when comparing yourself to others: It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others. We all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside. For example, on social media, we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives and this can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely. It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know how other people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off.

Look after yourself: Feeling lonely can be very stressful and can have a big impact on your general wellbeing, which might make it even harder to make positive steps to feeling better.

Try to get enough sleep: Getting too little or too much sleep can have a big impact on how you feel.

Think about your diet: Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels.

Try to do some physical activity: Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing, and some people find it helps improve their self-esteem.

Spend time outside: Spending time in green space can help your wellbeing.

Spend time with animals: Some people find spending time around animals can help with feelings of loneliness, whether through owning a pet or spending time around animals in their natural environment. If you find being around animals helpful, you could try visiting a local community farm – the organisation Social Farms and Gardens has a list of outdoor community projects across the UK, many of which have animals available to the public.

Avoid drugs and alcohol: While you might want to use drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult feelings about yourself, in the long run they can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems.

For more advice and tips, here are links to some websites that might help:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/loneliness-in-older-people/

https://letstalkloneliness.co.uk/

https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/loneliness/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/talk-us-phone/