Mind

7 ways to beat winter lockdown loneliness

Lockdown restrictions have left many of us feeling lonely this year. Now, chilly days and dark evenings are making Covid-19 restrictions even harder as we’re stuck indoors for so much of the time.

And for some people, the festive season can make feelings of loneliness worse, even when we’re not in the middle of a public health crisis.

Why does loneliness matter?

Lack of social connections can have a negative impact on mental health, making us more prone to depression and anxiety, and increasing the risk of cognitive decline in older people. There’s also growing evidence to suggest that long-term loneliness can affect physical health, lowering immunity, and raising the risk of conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. We’ve put together some tips to help you cope if you’re feeling lonely over the coming months.

How can I feel less lonely this winter?

You’re not alone in having felt lonely, whether you’ve experienced it for the first time this year or it’s something you’ve struggled with previously. Discover these 7 top tips that could help you to address feelings of loneliness this winter…

1. Plan your time

Staying busy will help stop you dwelling on the situation and making things worse. Even if you’re not working, having a structure to your day is a good idea.

  • Get showered and dressed rather than lounging around in pyjamas.

  • Keep to regular mealtimes.

  • Have something to look forward to each day, such as a catch-up with friends, a film, or a tasty dinner.

  • Try to chalk up a small achievement every day – something you’ve been meaning to do for ages but haven’t got around to. Beware of putting pressure on yourself with a long to-do list though.

2. Pick up the phone

Regular human contact is important, especially if you live alone. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to keep in touch as a simple phone call is all it takes.

  • Schedule regular calls with loved ones and friends.

  • Make a list of people you haven’t spoken to for a while and surprise them with a phone call to find out how they’re getting on.

  • If you’re over 60, you can access the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service, which matches you with a volunteer for regular chats.

  • You may also be able to receive calls through the NHS Check In and Chat service, or even become a volunteer yourself.

3. Get to grips with video calls

Seeing a friendly face can boost your mood and making a video call is easy once you know how. You can make and receive calls using software such as Zoom, WhatsApp and Facetime on your smartphone, tablet, or computer. This simple, step-by-step guide to video calls will help you get started.

You can take part in other activities with friends and family remotely as well. Why not have dinner together? Just prop up your device on the table and chat away as you eat. Or you could host an online movie party. Most popular streaming services allow groups to watch together remotely as long as you all have a subscription. Just download the free software extension, such as Netflix Party or Amazon Prime’s Watch Party, that allows you to choose a film or series and invite friends or family to watch it with you. A chat room appears at the side of the screen so you can talk about it as you watch, just as you would if they were in the same room.

4. Get outdoors when you can

Natural light and exercise boost your mood, so wrap up warm and get some fresh air. Currently, even the most stringent lockdown rules allow you to exercise outdoors and to meet one other person in the open air. Check the week’s weather forecast and arrange to meet a friend for a walk, take a flask or grab a takeaway coffee and enjoy a local green space together.

5. Try a new hobby or activity

If you’ve been inspired by programmes such as Channel 4’s, The Great British Bake Off, try a new cake recipe and share the results with neighbours. It’s a great excuse for a doorstep chat.

Search for online activities that suit your interests. It could be an online book club, a foreign language conversation group or a virtual choir.

Try live-streamed exercise classes. You’ll be working out alongside others in real time, which is much more sociable and motivating than exercising alone, and helps you stick to a schedule. Benenden Health members can access a range of free virtual exercise and wellbeing classes provided by the Vita Health Group.

6. Prepare for Christmas, and other special days

If you’re going to be away from family or friends, rather than dreading the day, try to change your mindset. Indulge yourself with treats, such as your favourite foods and an uplifting or funny film to watch.  The festive season is a great time to connect with others. If you’re feeling down, why not bake some Christmas treats and pass them out to your neighbours (if it’s safe for you to do so). That’s a great way to strike up conversation on the doorstep.

Stay up to date with the latest government advice so you know what the rules are this Christmas. You might be used to big family gatherings but being able to spend time with a small group of loved ones will still be lovely.

Remember that it’s only one day and there are many others in the same boat. Very few of us will be enjoying Christmas as planned, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself. With the exciting news about vaccines, it looks like things will be much better next year.

7. Know when to ask for help

At this difficult time, it’s normal and perfectly understandable to feel sad or lonely sometimes. But if you feel down and tearful a lot, are having trouble sleeping, or are feeling very anxious, your mental health may be suffering. Be honest with friends and loved ones about how you’re feeling. It might be that they haven’t realised you’re struggling and could do more to support you.

Remember that Benenden Health members can access our free Mental Health Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 414 8247. We can also provide up to six sessions of structured wellbeing counselling or support you with self-help measures. You can also talk to your GP, who can signpost you to local mental health services. There’s no need to suffer in silence.

Other useful websites:

Mind

Samaritans