Healthy relationships have the power to keep us healthy. Conversely, research shows that Loneliness can shorten our lifespan by as much as 15 years. Yet, more than 1 in 4 people in Northern Ireland feel lonely some or all of the time. Mental health issues, reduced mobility, financial restraints, having grown-up children, bereavement and poor public transport networks and lack of access to a car are just some of the reasons that people may feel lonely this festive period.
During the festive period, while many of us are coming together to nurture our relationships and the wellness benefits that they bring, for many others the feelings of loneliness will intensify. Although older people are more likely to be lonely and face a higher risk of death – loneliness and social isolation are increasingly affecting groups of people younger than 65 years old.
Loneliness can have a severely detrimental effect on our health and mental well-being. Social interaction is a huge part of being human; we are social animals. Of course, there are days when you like being alone with your own thoughts. However, if this is a perpetual state of being, it starts to affect how you feel and even your physical health.
The good news is that evidence also indicates that good quality relationships have the power to act as a crucial protective factor which can shield us from the effects of long-term health conditions; aid our recovery when we do get sick, and can even prevent illness in the first place.
This could perhaps be the best gift you could give and it doesn’t have to take much of your time.
Whether you are at the local shop, the bus stop or getting petrol at the garage, you can take the opportunity to chat to someone. It could be about the weather or something they have in their hand in the shop or something they are wearing. It can feel daunting the first time you do it, but it becomes second nature.
Remember, you can’t tell if someone is lonely – and it can affect people of any age and most people appreciate a bit of small talk. Some people might blank you, this is generally because they might be uncomfortable with this interaction. That’s OK. Maybe inside they appreciated you acknowledging them and they may behave differently if you see them again.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking, a warm smile and a greeting as you pass someone in the street is such a simple but very effective way of reaching out. Many people who have experienced loneliness say that one of the most difficult things to deal with is being ignored, not being acknowledged or recognised as a human being.
If you are aware of anyone living alone in your neighbourhood then you could knock on the door throughout the winter to check in on them, perhaps something as simple as seeing if they need anything the next time you are going to the shops.
However, you don’t have to live alone to be lonely. Consider also those around you that may not see a lot of people, including those they live with. Christmas can be a busy time for many workers, as shops and hospitality and public transport open later. If you know your sister is working a lot of nights for example but you are generally free in the evenings, could you arrange to call around to visit your nieces or nephews? This might not only support them and their well-being, but might help your sister feel better about having to miss time with her family.
Social media may give us a false perception of whether or not people are feeling lonely. Yes, keeping in touch online can be beneficial but don’t assume because your friends and family are frequently engaging with you on social media that they are not feeling lonely. Next time you are texting, why not just take the next step and phone them. Instead of a voice call, try a video call – this can help them feel closer to you and it can actually allow you to connect more in a shorter amount of time. Can’t afford your annual Christmas night out with your uni mates? Pour a glass of wine and have a zoom call instead. There are many ways to unlock the power of our relationships in improving our wellbeing.
As we grow in our romantic relationships, we often come to depend on them and that is no bad thing. Couple relationships based on mutual support and love for one another are healthy relationships. But in the hastiness of modern life, we sometimes take for granted whether our partners feel loved and satisfied.
Despite sharing a bed each night as well as a home with three kids and a dog, it’s not uncommon for loneliness to creep into our romantic relationships when we forget to express our love. While you are planning on how to make a magical experience for the children, or with wider friends and families, make sure to carve out some time to be close romantically over the festive break. Utilise intimacy as a way to keep warm this winter. Giving each other a massage can be an inexpensive way to feel closer and unlock the power in your relationship.
Attending one of our 50-minute Relationship MOT sessions may be another way to remind your partner you love them, and bring some sparkle back into your relationship.
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