Loneliness and Health

I am fortunate to have recently been part of a super course called Action for Happiness which was run by Brendan and Gareth Young. Although very tempting to talk more about the course and the super people I met whilst on it, I won’t here as my aim is to stick to the relevance of stroke, health etc rather than take us onto other subjects.

Whilst doing the course, it was highlighted how many people are lonely and just what a huge impact this has on our health and wellbeing.

We know only too well how stroke can make us isolated and lonely, then, if we are not careful we fall into a habit of not going out, then the fear of doing so becomes ever greater. So we are well and truly caught in the vicious circle of loneliness.

Hopefully, by highlighting a few things I have recently learned or possibly relearned but with supporting evidence, it will push us all to make the steps we all need to take the plunge and step out of our comfort zone yet further. Deep down we all know that when we fear company most we generally need it the most.

When we find an excuse to not go out we should think of these few facts. Loneliness is as harmful to us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being an alcoholic and twice as harmful as being obese.

It is as harmful as not exercising, and for many of us post stroke exercise is something that is either extremely limited or just not possible.

You may think loneliness is something we don’t need to think about until we get much older, but we would be wrong to think this, loneliness costs employers £2.5bn a year. Men report that at the age of 38 is when they have the fewest friends. During a campaign in 2013, GPs reported that at least  1 in 10 people visiting their surgery did so due to loneliness.

Certain areas have things in place to try to alleviate loneliness. In Worcestershire, GP’s can refer patients to a project called ‘Reconnection S’ helping people develop an action plan based on their personal interests. In Leeds there is a community cafe offering bridge club, poetry and other similar activities at the Suffolk Rural Coffee Caravan, you get the idea of how groups are sprouting up, across the country individuals wearing ‘happy to chat’ badges.

So with this in mind and bringing it back more to ourselves and our limitations, how about if you don’t already go to a local stroke group or activity group, you promise yourself you will sign up to one and start attending as soon as possible. You set a deadline so that you actually make yourself achieve it. Not only do you stand to gain but potentially you could be helping others simply by joining and conversations with people in similar situation to you.

One other thing you could do, which would push you out of your comfort zone, but equally give you reward too; is to make it habit that when you are next in the doctors, at a hospital appointment, in a shop anywhere, you talk to the person next to you, a simple hello and a smile. Keeping in mind they too could have feelings of loneliness, it may be a challenge for them to go out, they may go back to an empty home. YOU could potentially be the only person who chooses to kindly talk to them, you could make their day. If that is not the case it is still a nice gesture.

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