Putting a spotlight on how to deal with loneliness
Everyone feels lonely sometimes. It’s a perfectly natural human emotion, which can happen for lots of different reasons. As social animals, human beings are hard-wired to have contact with other people and so, of course, feeling lonely can be a result of being physically alone. But it’s possible to feel alone even when other people are around – for example, if you’re in a new environment or emotionally missing a particular person. So, even as the country starts to move on from the coronavirus lockdowns that have become part of all our lives, loneliness is no less of an issue.
With that in mind - what can you do if loneliness is starting to impact on your quality of life, or mental health? And what if feelings of loneliness are a trigger for you, or someone you care about, to drink alcohol?
There are things you can do to help. Loneliness Awareness Week is a national campaign, led by the Marmalade Trust charity, which aims to get people talking about loneliness, and bring people together. They have some great advice on what to do if you are feeling lonely.
Acknowledge it and don’t feel embarrassed
The Marmalade Trust put it nicely: “Loneliness is a bit like feeling hungry and thirsty. Much the same as when our bodies are telling us that we need to eat or drink something, loneliness is a sign that we need to pay attention to the amount of social contact we’re having.” It’s good to tell someone how you’re feeling too – and there’s no need to feel embarrassed.
Being aware of how you feel is also great advice when it comes to keeping track of your drinking. Alcohol is actually a depressant - it can interfere with processes in the brain that are important for good mental health and can even contribute to symptoms of severe depression, so it can make feelings of loneliness worse.
If you find that feelings of loneliness are affecting how much you drink, it could be a good idea start keeping track of how much alcohol you have each week. The Drinkaware app can help you keep track, and to stay within the Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines. You might find cutting down, and identifying drink-free social activities, can help boost your mood.
Identify what you need
Different things work for different people. Maybe you like a bit of fresh air and a walk, to catch up with someone? Perhaps a regular phone call, or joining a community – whether in person or online – could help you feel more connected.
Identifying the things that will work for you is also an opportunity to assess how much of a role alcohol plays in your social life. The Chief Medical Officers' guideline for both men and women recommend not drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis – and if you do drink regularly, to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you want to check - the Drinkaware Drinking Check is an online self-assessment tool that can help you work out whether you should be concerned about how much you drink.
If your feelings of loneliness are short-lived, sometimes, a good night’s sleep can be exactly what you need to clear your head – so it’s worth remembering that drinking alcohol can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling more tired, and less like socialising.
Once you have identified how you are feeling, and what you need to do to combat any feelings of loneliness, the next step is to do it! And remember, when you’re catching up with people, it’s a good idea to build activities into your routine that don’t involve drinking. Reconnecting with people could be a good opportunity to create some new habits too - taking at least three drink-free days each week is a good way of giving yourself a bit of self-care and improving your frame of mind.
Lastly, if you find you have feelings of loneliness for a long time, or you are worried about how much you are drinking, it's important to reach out to your GP. They can make sure you're getting the right support. A good first step is the support services listed on our website.