During my time at Volunteering In Health I learned so much about the detrimental effects of loneliness on our physical heath as well as our mental health. If we can help people to feel less lonely, by providing more meaningful connection, it can have a huge impact on everything else in their lives.

Closer to home, I have seen this through my own parents. Throughout her cancer journey, my mum was surrounded by friends and had no doubt that she was loved. She also continued to support many friends who she saw were having their own hard time, meaning she still had a strong sense of purpose. Right to the end, she remained positive and cheerful (mostly!), something I also put down to her lifelong practice of gratitude and mindfulness.

My dad on the other hand only really has me and my brother, and we are both busy so tend to spend our time helping him in physical ways rather than emotionally connecting. He chats with neighbours and dog walkers, but only knows them by their dogs’ names and wouldn’t be able to contact them to ask for help if he needed it. His health is terrible an he is in constant pain – something that I know can be reduced simply by connecting with others (though it’s out of my control to make him do this!).

As a very sociable person with many friends and an often exhaustingly jam packed diary, I have still experienced awful loneliness. I remember one time in particular when I was struggling with Mum and didn’t feel anyone understood or cared. I knew that if I reached out to any of my friends they’d be there. If I put it in my Facebook status, I’d have an influx of kind messages in minutes; I knew that people wanted to look after me and show they cared and to feel helpful. But it was easier said than done to admit that I was struggling, especially since (I think) people see me as a strong and positive person. And I felt like if I did, then I’d have to talk about it, and that wasn’t what I wanted or needed – I just needed to feel seen. In the end of course, I did reach out to a few friends, went out on a few walks, received a few bunches of flowers, and felt better without a day or two of sending those texts.

Loneliness sucks, but just like the way to lose weight is to eat right and move more, the way out of loneliness is simple but can feel impossible to do. Reach out to a friend. Knock on a neighbour’s door and ask if they fancy a cup of tea or need any shopping doing. Think of someone who might be struggling too and call them for a chat that will help you both out. Helping someone else is the quickest way to put your problems into perspective and feel good about yourself and useful again. If that leap feels too much, there are so many charities out there wanting to help, and they tend to attract the loveliest of staff – so you’ll get a good natter just by making that initial call.