Link Together was the WI’s winning resolution of 2017 and remains a key campaign today.
Loneliness is often a taboo subject.
Due to its nature, it often goes unseen and unheard.
WI members are encouraged to talk about their own experiences of loneliness if they can, explore strategies to reduce the impact of loneliness, and help “raise the profile of the issue with local health services”:
[We aim to] ensure that people who are lonely, or at risk of loneliness, are identified at the earliest possible opportunity and have access to the support and assistance they need.The NFWI website
Reaching lonely people can be difficult.
There is no one way to resolve it for everybody.
The causes of loneliness are varied and sometimes complex, but WIs have a great potential to make a positive difference to their communities and “link” people together.
Our eleven tips for alleviating loneliness are inspired by the NFWI’s Loneliness Toolkit.
1. Use Your Voice and Your Ears
Talking to someone on the phone or in person gives us a bigger social boost than sending an email or text.
Even short voice-to-voice or face-to-face interactions are proven to reduce feelings of loneliness and make people feel more connected and less forgotten.
If you have a friend who has expressed feelings of loneliness, make an effort to return their calls or show up and see them.
Just one small interaction can change the course of someone’s dayThe Loneliness Toolkit
2. Exercise with Someone
Physical activity that suits your level of fitness is proven to lower stress levels and benefits both physical and mental health.
Exercising with others, whether it is through yoga, gardening, or walking, can be a fantastic way to spend time with another person.
Sharing a fitness goal is a good excuse to get together regularly with an exercise buddy, and joining a class provides an opportunity to invite more acquaintances into your life.
3. Join a Group or a Class
Local newspapers and magazines often have listings for local social groups.
Websites like meetup.com make it easier to find people in your area who want to meetup around shared interests or experiences.
They’re a great resource for anyone who wants more social opportunities.
When you live with loneliness, it can be a relief to find other people in your situation.
This is especially true if your situation is associated with isolation, such as if you are experiencing a long-term illness or have recently become a new parent.
Alternatively, you could look for classes in your area where you could learn a new skill or explore new ideas.
It can provide an excuse to get together with others and give you something to talk about.
Setting goals to learn a new skill or pick up an old one can help to build confidence and improve wellbeing.The Loneliness Toolkit
If you’re already part of a group, try to create a welcoming atmosphere and include everyone who is there.
Make space for quieter members or introduce people who you think would get on.
4. Focus on Sharing Interests
It is sometimes said that the fastest way to seem interesting is to be interested.
People love it when someone seems genuinely interested in them and engaged in what they’re saying.
Likewise, shared interests can provide many opportunities for activities if you know where to look.
If you know someone affected by loneliness, consider involving them in one of your interests and encourage them to share theirs with you.
5. Help Out
Small acts of kindness make the world go round.
Helping someone who is struggling with, for example, their shopping bags can make you feel as good as the person you have helped.
On a bigger scale, being a volunteer for a good cause can provide a sense of purpose, self-esteem, and a forum for social interaction.
This is true for all of us, lonely or not.
If you know someone who feels lonely, popping in to help can also provide an excuse to chat and socialise.
Conversely, giving someone going through loneliness the opportunity to help you can be a good way to break the ice and build a relationship.
6. Have Empathy
It can be hard to talk about being lonely, especially if we fear that the other person might respond with awkwardness or pity.
That’s why we love this video by American psychologist Brene Brown.
In it, she talks about the difference between pity and empathy and how empathy “is an antidote to shame”.
Loneliness can be a depressing and frustrating experience and we can sometimes take that frustration out on ourselves.
It is important to respond to your own loneliness with empathy, too.
7. Be an Enabler
We can greatly enable each other in very simple ways.
Something like offering to give someone a lift can be an effective way to relieve their loneliness, especially if a lack of transport opportunities has meant that they have been missing out on meeting friends or family.
Other ways we can socially enable each other is by offering child care for a few hours, working within someone’s energy limits or physical limitations, or by being a plus one.
If you need help and can ask for it, don’t leave people guessing.
Helping friends to make friends is what friends do.
8. Make Time for Small Interactions
We naturally value friends more than acquaintances but research shows that having a wide net of acquaintances with whom you regularly interact can have a tremendously positive effect on your life.
Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver conducted a series of studies to explore that very question. They found that people with a greater number of casual acquaintances tended to be happier, and that the more interactions they had with those acquaintances, the happier they were.
[In another study] people who were instructed to increase the number of interactions they had with acquaintances over the course of a week reported a decrease in feelings of loneliness.
Dr Guy Winch Why We Need All The Acquaintances We Can Get
Because it is difficult to break out of social isolation, focusing on making more acquaintances (rather than making friends) can offer the beginnings of a way out of loneliness for some.
Get to know your neighbours. Don’t be afraid to speak to people you pass in the street. You may be the only person they have spoken to that dayThe Loneliness Toolkit
It is just as important to decided to be a good acquaintance as it is to want to be a good friend.
9. Parallel “Play”
Parallel play is when children play next to but not necessarily with each other.
For adults, parallel “play” can look like reading books next to each other, crafting together, or one person doing chores while the other listens to the radio.
Spending time together doesn’t have to involve talking.
Sometimes we just want someone to be there.
Silent companionship can remedy the tyranny the empty house.
10. Be Aware of People Who Might be Vulnerable to Loneliness
The current research suggests that some of the people who are most likely to be affected by loneliness are
- Unemployed people;
- People who have recently moved to a new area;
- Adults who live alone, especially if they are widowed or divorced;
- Those with long-term health conditions or disabilities;
- Adults without families.
Make an effort to check in and keep up with people who you’ve noticed spend a lot of time alone or who have expressed feelings of loneliness.
Many lonely people do not know where to turn to for support, which makes it even more important to include and support them when you notice you can help.
11. Be Patient and Persistent
As we said at the beginning of this article, there is no single way to fix loneliness that will work for everybody.
It can take a lot of time, and sometimes people just don’t respond the way we hoped.
Be kind to yourself.
Tell people if there is any practical things you need that they can do to include you.
If you know someone who is struggling with loneliness, even small ways of reaching out can make a difference – especially if you are consistent.
Loneliness, by definition, is not a problem that can be tackled alone.