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Women What Whistle

This podcast is about not falling in line or fading away. Stories of bravery, accounts of resilience and even tales of sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s about finding our voice, and sometimes our brave, through the stories of other women who’ve had to find theirs.

Feb 13, 2020

The health implications of loneliness are shocking and the greatest irony is that in a world so connected, we are feeling increasingly disconnected. It’s not about the quantity of friends we have, it’s all about the quality.

Last week I touched on this ever so briefly and I think it warrants a longer conversation so I wanted to dig under the surface a little bit more as this week there’s been a huge amount of activity everywhere trying to bring the subject of loneliness to the fore and discuss the whys and wherefores to it with the campaign to end loneliness

I have to say I was really challenged by the Ted talk that I told you about a couple of weeks ago, it was called “what makes a good life” by Robert Waldinger, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical school and one of the stand out things to me was that the quality of your relationships in your 50s has a direct impact on the quality of your life in your 70s and 80s – so with my 50s approaching the year after next, I’m not going to lie, I felt really challenged to look at the quality of my relationships, specifically my friendships

I remember a long long time ago reading an interview with Carol Vorderman, this was way more than 10 years ago now and she said that her 30s were really hard, raising families and struggling to build her career but that her 40s were great as her kids were older and her career was established so she was able to enjoy life more – and how she wished she knew it would pay off in her 30s – I remember reading it at the time thinking lucky for some, but fast forward 10/15 years and I think that ball has been kicked down the road as I know many many people in their 40s who are still struggling to find their feet when it comes to careers, getting on the property ladder and/or starting a family and feeling like they are free to enjoy life.

So what has happened in the last 10 years?

Social media – the irony is that the more connected we are, the less connected we have become 

  • Being busy has become a badge of honour, so much so that admitting that we might feel lonely has become even more taboo – like you have failed
  • We put our jobs and everyone else first
  • We don’t pop round for coffee anymore or sit on the phone for a chat – it’s all done by text, who doesn’t love a whatsapp group? But at the expense of eye contact? Body language? Being in the moment?

Now please don’t get me wrong, I love social media in so many ways but I have found myself pulling back on it a bit this year and making the effort to reconnect with “life on the ground” so to say

The trouble with immersing ourselves in the wonderful world of smart phones and technology that allows us to chat with anyone anywhere, is that we risk cutting ourselves off from some of our most basic human needs which happen right in front of our noses. So much research over the years has been done on the need for physical touch with babies and young children in particular as a link to their emotional and mental health - this doesn’t change drastically. We have this deep need for physical connection, eye contact, touch, sharing the same air and experiences together – not from behind a screen – we need our communities.

Take going shopping for example, cashiers are being replaced by machines, post offices are almost a thing of the past, local newsagents, nipping to the bank – so much has become automated so we need to make a conscious effort to replace those human interactions that used to be multiple times a day with other ones so we continue to meet our basic human needs, to connect, truly connect with one another.

Do you not think that the depth of our connection is often missing? We ask how someone is but we don’t really have the time to hear the answer so perhaps we even stop asking, I know I’ve been guity of that in the past.

The thing is, this self important race that we are running, is exactly that, it’s against ourselves and ultimately we are the ones who are missing out, if it’s not now, it will be at some stage because we all feel lonely at different stages.

We hear a LOT about the 1.2 million elderly people who are lonely, but it isn’t just them, your 20s and early 30s can be terribly lonely as you leave home, try to find your way in life, discover who you are, make mistakes, have your heart broken and live in your overdraft! City life can be as lonely as rural – in fact sometimes more so as in a city you can feel like you blend into the background whereas my experience of rural communities is that they often are better at rallying around – it’s different everywhere. Look at these statistics for how loneliness effects our physical health, it’s shocking!

  • Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Loneliness is worse for you than obesity. (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
  • Lonely people are more likely to suffer from dementia, heart disease and depression. (Valtorta et al, 2016) (James et al, 2011) (Cacioppo et al, 2006)
  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 29% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015)

So what do we do? About 18 months ago, the British Government created a loneliness strategy for England and it has been said that there is still not much change “on the ground” but to be fair, it’s not entirely their responsibility.

Yesterday, The Welsh government launched their loneliness strategy this week and the document opens with a quote from Robert Waldinger again, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier”

Their strategy essentially contains 5 main points

  • Increasing opportunities for people to connect
  • Create community infrastructures that support connected communities – friendship bench
  • Cohesive and supportive communities – events, support groups, book groups, crafting, coffee mornings, drop ins,
  • Building awareness and promoting positive attitudes
  • Building for the future

According to a survey of 2,000 people in the UK, we fritter away 110 hours a year lamenting what might have been and 8/10 people believe their lives would be better if they had taken more risks so let’s learn from that. Did you read the list compiled by Macmillan nurses which showed the top 5 regrets of people at the end of their lives? If you’ve not heard them yet, here they are :

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

They have been circulated widely over the years and are as profound as they were when they were first written. There’s even a book about them now called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying book 

So if you want to find out more about the campaign to end loneliness, visit the website

They also released this beautiful video which is very thought provoking …Be More Us campaign video 

So let us be people who don’t leave it until it’s too late to understand the damage that loneliness does, until we are plagued by loneliness that has effected our minds and our bodies and also, let’s remember those who are suffering right now. If you’re struggling with loneliness right now, please ask for help – I know it can feel so burdensome but we all, shoe on the other foot, wouldn’t want to feel that way. Be honest, reach out, have the courage to express how you feel because you may discover that in reaching out, not only do you feel better, but you help someone else feel better too. Loneliness is a terribly hidden thing that we can all bring out into the light and combat together.

I read about Galentines day this morning – a take on Valentines day, reach out to your girlfriends, use #galentinesday as a reason to connect, truly connect with someone you love.

As always, do get in touch, I'd love to hear from you - more info on my website