This week, Sandra Falconer shares her top 10 tips for things to do to boost your mood and connect with others, in honour of Loneliness Awareness Week (13th-17th June 2022).
Age UK’s report on loneliness (December 2021) found that 1 in 12 people over 50 do not have “the meaningful conversations and interactions they desire and need”. There are complex reasons for this. It may be the result of bereavement or financial constraints, or a decline in physical health can make it more difficult to get out and about.
The pandemic affected everyone and exacerbated an existing problem but, for some, it was merely a continuation of what had already become normal life.
Loneliness is painful and can impact us physically and emotionally. Here are a few suggestions that might help to combat the lack of social connection in your life or that of someone you know.
1. Be kind to yourself
If we’re going to step out of our comfort zone, we need to feel the very best we can. So, begin by pampering yourself. Once you are doing more, you might not have as much time as you do now. Run yourself a soaky bath, do your hair and put on your favourite outfit. Then serve yourself a delicious meal on your best china. You deserve this. Remember, you’re worth it! Yes, you really are.
2. One step at a time
Now you’re ready to launch the new you, start by taking small steps. When I have felt in need of human company, I put on my coat and head off to the local shops. It’s a two-way process. A smile can make someone’s day – the supermarket cashier, the owner of the hardware shop. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy in-depth conversation to count as social connection. Even if I can’t get out, I chat to the Ringtons lady, the window cleaner and the people who deliver my weekly supermarket shop. If they don’t respond, they probably got out of bed on the wrong side. Feel for them but don’t let it put you off. It has nothing to do with you.
3. Enjoy being online
There is so much to do if you have access to the internet. If you’re reading this, you already know about The Joy Club. I became a member during lockdown about 18 months ago and have met and made friends with so many fantastic people. It isn’t the only online site for seniors, but in my opinion, it’s the best. It’s truly interactive, with a huge variety of activities and all this at a very reasonable cost. I still find it amazing that I share an hour with people from all over the UK, and beyond.
The internet can be such a fascinating place. Last year when I couldn’t get out, I booked a weekly virtual tour of somewhere I’d never visited. It cost about £5 per ‘trip’, and I walked (virtually) around Montmartre in Paris, Bucharest, Prague and other wonderful places. All without getting aching feet. People from far and wide contributed in the chat box and it became something to look forward to. So exciting!
Many of the activities that went online at the start of the pandemic, have retained their online presence. My church still broadcasts Sunday services with a coffee Zoom. Of course, belonging to a religious community in itself is a way of maintaining social connection.
4. Buy/rescue a pet
A wonderful relationship develops between a cat or dog and its owner. Animals tend to offer us unconditional acceptance (as long as we see to their needs) and they are fun! Each one has its own personality. After my gorgeous Labrador Rosie died, I went out to buy a kitten and came back with two. One thinks she is a human and, when she isn’t being naughty, loves cuddles. The other is more reserved, with a chocolate box face and a haughty air. She knows she is a cat and practises every feline wile she has to get her own way. They have brought so much joy into my life.
Having a dog is not only a faithful companion, it is also an automatic route to social interaction. You become part of the dog walking community as you bump into the same people day after day.
5. Ring a friend
Isn’t modern technology wonderful? Lockdown prompted me to have a weekly coffee, on facetime, with one of my daughters, who lives 250 miles away. We set aside a time just as we would if we were meeting up in person. It’s possible to set up a chat on Facetime, Messenger or Skype between a number of people and of course many families and friendship groups started this during lockdown. WhatsApp is another useful platform to share thoughts and news.
Age UK has developed a Befriending Scheme, offering telephone or face-to-face interaction with elderly people. Unfortunately, in most areas, there is a waiting list. That could be an opening for a volunteering opportunity.
6. Making new friends
With the variety of classes and groups at The Joy Club, it’s easy to find one that matches your interests. Leaders and tutors are experienced in drawing new people in quickly and because you are doing something which appeals, it is easier to add to the conversation. All the groups are safe environments, and before long you feel very much a part of the group. It’s a good feeling to join a new session and find members you know from other groups. You will make friends, but you will also gain a new skill or develop an existing one.
Another way to make the most of your membership is to join in on The Joy Club website. There is a general forum and blog, as well as ones specific to individual tastes. Members of both the Creative Writing group and the Art Club regularly share their work on the Arts and Entertainment Forum.
Finally, now and again members of groups share news of events happening locally. I now see two Joy Clubbers in my local community.
7. Join a local interest group
There is so much out there. Keep fit and dance classes, photography groups and rambling – these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are small groups in most areas for which Age UK is a good source. National organisations like U3A have classes and other events throughout the country. They aren’t free but they are cheaper than evening classes at local colleges and you don’t feel like Methuselah amongst a class of 20 or 30 somethings.
This is a very good way of becoming part of a scene. Charity shops are always looking for helpers, there is also hospital visiting and nature conservation. I belong to the Friends of Nature’s World, a group which cares for gardens in a botanic centre which closed to the public some years ago. There are many such groups just in my town. There is something quite special about becoming part of a team. Your local council will probably keep a list of voluntary organisations in the area.
9. Embrace your alone times
By now, you may well have so much to do, you look forward to having a day or two to simply potter. When the rest of your life is full, a chance to relax is precious. Stay in bed for an extra hour, make that pamper session a regular event, appreciate yourself and all you have accomplished.
10. Do something creative
I love it when I have time to develop a talent. I love writing and I often get so lost in the piece I am creating, I live it. I’m connecting with my characters. I also enjoy art. I become totally engaged while I am painting or making a Zen doodle birthday card. YouTube has endless tutorials through which you can learn to do just about anything. Better still, develop something you have learned during a session with The Joy Club.
I don’t underestimate how hard it can be to move out of a comfort zone. Only you know how far to push yourself when it comes to branching out. There are some times when it’s better to take a very small step over the boundary and feel a sense of achievement, while at other times we feel brave enough for the quantum leap.
Drop a note in the comments to tell us which of the suggestions appeals to you, or if you have ideas for alternatives. It would be great to hear from you.
If you enjoyed this article, do take a look at Sandra’s ‘Counting the Pennies’ series: