If staying healthy is top of your agenda, you’re probably keen to keep fit and eat well. But according to research by Vivek H. Murthy, former Surgeon General of the United States, isolation and loneliness pose a greater threat to our health than obesity, and their life shortening effects are comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Sadly, it’s a real problem for many people living in the UK, with a 2016 study by the British Red Cross and Co-Op showing that more than nine million people in the UK say they always or often feel lonely. In 2018 the UK government even appointed a Minister of Loneliness to help combat this growing issue.
Humans were designed to work together in communities, but in our tech-based, modern world, we’re becoming more and more isolated from each other. We email and post on social media instead of talking to each other and it’s not doing our mental health any favours.
When it feels like everything is working against you, how do you embrace connectivity and community?
Here are four of our tips:
- Remember you are not alone. There are 7.5 billion people on the planet – be curious about the ones you come into contact with.
- Try smiling at strangers. It might not be the usual done thing, especially in London, but smiling at someone has been shown to release oxytocin the “love” hormone in the brain. Social exchanges also change the neurotransmitter and circuit activity in your brain which decreases stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms and ups calm and happy feelings.
- Give yourself a daily dose of human contact and know that along with oxytocin, the pharmacist in your brain will be rewarding you with other “happy hormones” including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
- Embrace random acts of kindness. It’s well known that doing something nice for someone else will in turn have a positive impact on your own wellbeing. A RAOK can release neurochemicals resulting in the “helper’s high”, strengthen bonds, enhance physical and mental health and even reduce pain.
If you’re feeling lonely, don’t despair. Instead take the opportunity to be kind to yourself and meet some new people. Whether it’s joining a club, a new social activity or simply smiling at a stranger, there’s always a way to connect. Do more of what you love, try new hobbies and you’ll find there’s plenty of community to enjoy.