Wellness Wednesday: Alone or Lonely?

University of Kent Occupational Health and Wellbeing Manager, Brenda Brunsdon

Loneliness Awareness Week 14-18 June

This week is Loneliness Awareness Week. It is promoted by the Marmalade Trust which is a charity ‘dedicated to raising awareness of loneliness and helping people make new friendships.’ This year, they are encouraging people to see loneliness as something people experience, not as a condition they suffer from. This uses a classic cognitive behavioural reframing technique to address the emotions surrounding feeling alone: we are not lonely; we get lonely. The difference: being lonely is a state of existence; getting lonely is an emotion we pass through along with other emotions or phases. The message from the Marmalade Trust seeks to normalise things even further by reminding us that everyone gets lonely from time to time.

I wrote a blog on loneliness in September last year. I was shocked to find out that research has shown that a person is at the same risk of premature death if they are experiencing stress from loneliness as if they smoke 15 cigarettes a day. Other research has shown that loneliness is a greater predictor of premature death than obesity.

Why is loneliness so detrimental to us physically and psychologically? Feelings of loneliness trigger our fight/flight reaction, which means our bodies release adrenaline and cortisol.  This makes us feel agitated and anxious and can eventually lead to chronic physical health problems and diseases.  Psychologically, perhaps even linked to physiologically, loneliness is akin to feeling hunger or thirst; it stimulates us to rectify a situation which is a threat to our health and safety.

The experiences of the past year have taught us all more about feeling lonely. As Francesca Specter comments in her article, (see link below), ‘Before 2020, the word ‘lonely’ wasn’t really in my vocabulary….But I am grateful for what it’s taught me: how to identify and navigate loneliness.’ Many of us will relate to that. The Shout 85258 article below focusses on ‘Supporting yourself and others’ as a theme for this week. Access the article for some great tips on how to recognise loneliness in yourself and others and what to do to start moving towards a more connected life.

Our Employee Assistance Programme is a great resource if you are feeling lonely and need someone to speak to. Give them a call when you want to talk about any negative feelings you are experiencing, including when you are feeling lonely: 0808 168 2143.

In her TED Talk linked below, Baya Voce, discusses ‘Anchors of Connection’ which help us to stave off the emotions of loneliness. She explains how these anchors are rooted in repetitive actions and intentions, informal rituals that we can all perform. She emphasises that it’s often easier to go back to former connections or habits than forge new ones. This is something that other commentators on loneliness are agreed on. The experts encourage us to reach out to old connections when we feel lonely, seeking out what we know, rather than trying to start new connections. The reason for this is that embarking on something new, striking up a conversation with someone we don’t know, is more difficult for us as human beings.

This Loneliness Awareness Week, try thinking about the topic differently to help yourself and reach out to others if you or they are affected by this difficult and potentially damaging emotion.


Loneliness Awareness Week 2021 on marmalade trust.org

‘Loneliness Awareness Week 2021: Supporting yourself and others’ on giveusashout.org

‘Loneliness Awareness Week 2021: ‘What living alone throughout a pandemic taught me about how to feel less lonely’ by Francesca Specter on myimperfectlife.com

‘Get involved in Loneliness Awareness Week 2021’ on letstalkloneliness.co.uk

‘Loneliness’ by Kurzgesagt b on YouTube

BCG Emotional Health Series: Coping with Loneliness’ by Boston Consulting Group on YouTube

‘The Simple Cure for Loneliness’ by Baya Voce  on TEDxSaltLakeCity on YouTube

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