With the pandemic producing an ‘alarming increase’ in loneliness across the globe, it’s wholly apt that the theme for 2022’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness.
‘Less Loneliness, More Connection’ is our bespoke workshop, created exclusively for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. We ask the workshop creator, transformational coach and workplace mental health trainer, Jenny to tell us more more about the workshop and her thinking behind it.
Q: How do think Hybrid and Flexible Working effects our feelings of loneliness?
Jenny: As the working world adapts post-pandemic, recent research overwhelmingly shows that the increase in flexible and hybrid work has meant loneliness has become a “huge workplace issue.” Many people feel lonely when not in the office and the vast majority think action needs to be taken. Of those surveyed, 36% said they themselves had experienced loneliness when working flexibly, with younger workers aged 18 – 36 almost twice as likely as those over the age 55.
Q: What’s the difference between loneliness and being alone?
Jenny: It is important to note that loneliness and being alone are two very different things. Social psychologists define loneliness as “the gap between the social connections you would like to have and those you feel you experience.”
At the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction – an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections. Being alone or inhabiting solitude, however – can be a powerful and healing thing. As an introvert I deeply value alone time, and I often feel the loneliness when I’m with other people.
Qu: Do you think there’s a stigma around admitting to loneliness?
Jenny: Yes I do. Studies show that more often than not we deny our loneliness. And when I really consider this I think it’s because there is lots of stigma surrounding loneliness. It’s equated with shyness, depression, being a loner or antisocial, or possessing bad social skills.
Qu: If someone is feeling lonely, what would you recommend they do?
Jenny: To combat loneliness we must first learn how to identify it and have the courage to see that experience as a warning sign. Our response to that warning sign should be to find connection. This doesn’t necessarily mean joining a bunch of groups or checking in with everyone we know – numerous studies confirm that it’s not the quantity of friends but the quality of a few relationships that actually matters. If you’re lonely, almost the last thing you want to do is reach out, but there are ways you can do so that feel nurturing, rather than daunting and we explore these more in the workshop.
Learning to have more meaningful conversations, that involve you listening properly, building rapport and avoiding conversational narcissism will help break down social barriers in your everyday interactions. You can also make more of ‘micro connections’ throughout your day, such as with your delivery driver or coffee barrister.
Whether you’re an introvert who hates small talk or an extrovert that stops to chat to everyone, the good news is there are things we can all actively do to help mitigate loneliness and fulfil our primal need to connect. I can’t wait for us to explore these more during Mental Health Awareness Week.
Jenny S is an accredited trainer with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England; a Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner; and Transformational Coach, accredited with the University of Chester and a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Jenny is an experienced Facilitator of learning programmes, specifically around mental fitness and wellbeing. Her experience spans from heading up Learning and Wellbeing functions in global organisations, to supporting individuals to transform their mindset.