Only the lonely

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place 9 – 15th May. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, the week provides an opportunity for the U.K to shine a light on how we achieve good mental health.

The theme for this year’s event is loneliness. I’m sure it’s a theme that resonates for many of us, particularly given how disrupted our lives were during the pandemic over the past couple of years. The aims being to share stories, break the stigma and be part of a movement to tackle loneliness.

So, how do the Mental Health Foundation define loneliness?

The mismatch between the social connections we have and those that we need or want.

I’m sure we can all think of times in our lives when we have either been, or simply felt lonely… and that’s not just during times when we have physically been on our own. I remember speaking with YogaMum during the pandemic when I would open up about how lonely I felt – the feeling of being lonely being the operative word. I had all the love I could need or want from the YogaFam. We were living together 24/7 so always in each others company. But it still didn’t stop me feeling very lonely.

The crazy thing is – outside of me opening up to YogaMum, nobody would have known it. I disguised this from family and friends, work colleagues, the lot. Even taking the time to write this now has given me a chance to reflect and realise how lonely I had become and how that had affected me.

I could have easily sunk deeper into this hole, almost wallowing in this feeling of loneliness. But by opening up to YogaMum helped shift my perspective on it being ok to be lonely. It not only reminded me of how much I valued what I had around me through such a small circle of close family during the lockdowns, it also made me hungry to seek out other networks to make me feel the same way.

I found new ways of teaching yoga online – for free at weekly directorate-wide meetings at Defra. I also ran a Summer Stretch fundraising campaign – running 15 minute yoga sessions on Facebook during the summer holidays in 2020 to raise money for local charities that had been badly affected during the pandemic. Also on Facebook, I joined the Joe Wicks Body Coach app and became an active member of its brilliant online community group which brought people together from all walks of life through a shared interest for fitness and good nutrition and a greater sense of togetherness.

As much as what I was doing was all virtual, it was amazing how all of these pursuits and more drew me more towards how good it felt to be connected. But it also helped shift my perspective on what I had at home. It’s sometimes easy to overlook the unconditional love, affection and strong bonds we have around us amongst the humdrum of everyday life. It doesn’t mean that I don’t experience loneliness – but what is does mean is that I have people and networks around me to reach out to.

The Mental Health Foundation has some brilliant ideas on how you can bring loneliness into the light. They’re encouraging everyone to get involved in the largest collective sharing of loneliness experiences – helping to shatter the stigma around loneliness through powerful stories such as this.