Loneliness is more common now than ever, and it affects all ages. These simple tips will help you increase your connections...
As children, making friends is easy. All it takes is a push on a swing or a ride down the slide.
But as we reach adulthood, finding kindred spirits and making connections can feel much harder.
When you’re lonely, it sometimes feels as though you’re the only one suffering.
However, isolation is a growing issue. In fact the latest research makes for shocking reading — there are nine million people in the UK who feel lonely often or all the time.
And a study by the Campaign to End Loneliness in partnership with YouGov, has found that more than half of us haven’t made a new friend for years.
Can it be that we have forgotten how?
Loneliness can be catastrophic for our health, with social isolation comparable to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and high blood pressure, and from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
A sense of isolation can span generations, with both young and older folk suffering. But it’s important not to blame yourself.
‘Loneliness is not about someone’s personality,’ says Laura Alcock-Ferguson, executive director of the Campaign to End Loneliness. ‘It can be driven by factors such as health and economic status.
‘Families often live far apart, and we spend more time online. People are living for longer. Divorce is on the rise.
Younger people feel disconnected from their communities because many rent and feel unable to put down roots.
Older people are more likely to face life-changing events such as divorce, retirement, long-term illness or bereavement.
‘These can happen in quick succession or even at the same time. This means opportunities to meet people can be reduced.
‘If it’s difficult for you to leave the house,’ says Laura, ‘it’s going to be harder to make new friends.
But remember that millions of people experience loneliness.
‘It’s not a failing and there are lots of things you can do to tackle it. Whether we’re 24 or 84, making new friends is good for our mental and physical health.’
Here are five ways to find new friends, whatever your age…
Reaching out to other people doesn’t have to be complicated. It can start with a simple hello.
‘Our opportunities for small moments of connection, such as small talk at the bus stop, have been reduced because we’re often plugged into our phones,’ says Laura. ‘But saying hello to someone in your local shop or smiling at someone on the bus can be really valuable.’
You can also join Be More Us, the movement started by the Campaign to End Loneliness, which encourages moments of connection.
GET A HOBBY
Whether you’re into jogging, Zumba or cross-stitch, there’s a club for you. And it stands to reason that it will be full of like-minded souls.
Don’t worry about running out of small talk. With a shared hobby, you already have something in common.
Laura says: ‘Volunteering is a fantastic way to make new friends. Look at do-it.org to find local opportunities.’
The charity Contact the Elderly asks volunteers to drive older people to monthly tea parties, also hosted by volunteers.
While older folk can enjoy a regular get-together, volunteers also get to feel part of a group. By helping others, you can make yourself feel happier and less isolated too.
The organisation Meetup is run in a similar way to a dating club, but the emphasis is on finding new pals rather than romance.
With branches across the UK, groups organise regular events tailored to members’ interests, including nature walks, spa trips and comedy nights.
KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURS
In the ‘good old days’, neighbours knew everything about one another, but in the digital age, and with more people in full-time work, things have changed.
However, a sense of local community can go a long way towards combating isolation.
‘Join a community event,’ says Laura. ‘Nextdoor.co.uk is a great way to find out what’s happening in your area.’
Or why not take the first step, literally? Knock on your neighbour’s door and say hello. You never know — you may find that your new best friend is closer than you realised.
Edited by Louise Baty