How to cope with loneliness

Last reviewed on 17 December 2020

One impact of months of COVID-19 restrictions has been that more people feel lonely. In fact, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that loneliness in the UK peaked in the week after the clocks went back. Unfortunately, the second lockdown and winter drawing closer are adding to a feeling of social and emotional isolation.

Whether you live with family or friends or on your own, you might be feeling lonely at the moment. If you don’t have a smartphone or computer, you might be finding it difficult to stay in touch. If you’re self-isolating or shielding, it might seem like you haven’t seen other people for ages. And, as we head towards the festive season, you might be worried that you won’t be able to spend time with your loved ones.

As Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age and Chair of the Campaign to End Loneliness, says, “Even before COVID-19, millions of people in the UK were experiencing loneliness. The lockdown, while necessary, has exacerbated this problem, particularly for older people, who are more likely to live alone, and less likely to be internet users.”

But loneliness and isolation don’t just affect older people. Recent research by What Works Wellbeing revealed that young adults (aged 18-30) are also at greater risk of loneliness during the pandemic and our own survey with Partnership for Young London showed that many young people rarely left the house during the first lockdown.

Even with COVID-19 restrictions in place, there are things you can do to help you feel less lonely. As Shayamal Shah, a member of UCL’s Loneliness and Social Isolation in Mental Health Network, said in a recent blog, “Whenever you are feeling lonely, upset, negatively reflecting over the past and experiencing the lack of control you have over your minds, remember to fight back.”

You might find it useful to follow these five steps to improve your overall mental wellbeing:

  1. Connect with other people – by phone, email or video chat if you can’t see them in person
  2. Be physically active – go for a walk, a run or a bike ride or do an online workout
  3. Learn something new each day – read a book, try a new hobby or sign up for a course
  4. Give to others – could you offer to help a neighbour or volunteer for a local charity?
  5. Pay attention to the present moment – download a mindfulness app, such as Be Mindful

You can find out more in our article about five steps to good mental wellbeing. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, low or you’re having trouble sleeping, you might find our self-assessment tool useful.

This blog by the Campaign to End Loneliness provides useful guidance for older people on what to do if you’re feeling lonely due to COVID-19. For younger people, the YoungMinds website contains lots of great resources, including tips on coping with loneliness and a blog about dealing with down days in self-isolation. If you’re a student, check out this article on the Student Space website.

Useful websites and helplines:

Age UK (0800 169 6565)

Campaign to End Loneliness

Every Mind Matters

Independent Age (0800 319 6789)

Mind

Samaritans (116 123)

Shout (text SHOUT to 85258)

Student Space

The Mix (0808 808 4994)

The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90)

The Student Room

YoungMinds