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‘Loneliness’ - Isolation Vs. Insulation

Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event where there is an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health. The focus for this year is Loneliness. Loneliness is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. Our connection to other people and our community is fundamental to protecting our mental health and we need to find better ways of tackling the epidemic of loneliness. We can all play a part in this.

When I would previously think of loneliness I would generally think of the elderly. Those that were forced to quarantine, alone, due to fear for their health and in some cases their lives during the pandemic. My grandmother included. This was certainly a demographic that struggled immensely during this time but I think a greater awareness and understanding of what loneliness is and how it can impact us all is equally as important for societal wellbeing.

Earlier this year I separated from my partner of two and a half years. Having spent three lockdowns together we both decided we needed a little time alone to reflect on what we wanted in life, our personal values/goals and whether we still felt they were aligned. Initially I was very excited to be able to focus solely on myself but after a few months I realised that I was missing my best friend, my partner in crime and someone I had grown used to waking up with every day. I was lost and confused with my new found freedom. What I later realised was that I had completely lost my sense of ‘self’. That my identity was completely intertwined in the relationship and without it I felt completely isolated and alone – even though I had many wonderful friends and colleagues around me. It just didn’t make sense... and so I began to read… lots!

New research from the US is discovering that being alone can be just as bad for your physical health as obesity or heavy smoking. But how can we be alone if we have lots of friends and people around us? This is something that I wanted to explore for myself.

There are three types of defined loneliness; Emotional, Social and Existential loneliness. More information can be found on the three types here:

What I realised was that although I had many wonderful people around me I still felt very alone. I was trying to juggle the idea of ‘finding myself’ but also trying to remain connected with wider society and not socially disconnecting. My new ‘emotional loneliness’ (which was a choice) was having a knock on effect into creating a ‘social loneliness’ and then enhancing my feeling of ‘existential loneliness’. So how do I find a balance? The answer for me was creating my social scaffolding. I wrote a list of the 5 people I felt closest to who I felt I could call at any time day or night who I KNEW would be there for me if I really needed them. This was a really useful task for me as it made me feel less alone and that I did actually have good people around me who did really care. I think most of us do. I then made a point of messaging those people and thanking them for always being there for me and all the support I had received throughout the years. That made me feel really grateful and appreciative of those individuals and reconnected us. It enhanced my sense of purpose in being able to offer them that support also.

We may not all be blessed with lots of friends we can lean on but most of us will be able to identify one or two really important individuals who have always been and will always be there for us. Reminding ourselves of this really helps when feeling disconnected.

Sometimes it is good for us to take a moment for ourselves, wrapped up on the sofa in a duvet watching a movie or whatever that pleasure may be. This is what I personally call ‘insulation’ – choosing to take that moment for ourselves rather than it being forced upon us. Isolation however is not always a choice for everyone and so I recommend starting small if this is ever the case. One quality phone call a day when we feel alone. Not a Facebook chat but scheduling a call with an old friend and really taking the time to catch up properly. This process was incredibly cathartic for me and something I try and keep up in my daily/weekly practice – depending on how I am feeling.

In summary keep it simple, be mindful of those that that you feel might be struggling and always prioritise your own wellbeing. Setting small goals and achieving those will lead to a greater sense of purpose, belonging and emotional wellbeing.

Danny Rahim is an Actor, Coach and Mental Health Ambassador.

Over the past decade Danny has starred in a number of TV shows including EastEnders, DCI Banks, Primeval, Vera and Citizen Khan - alongside working with schools, universities and businesses to help reduce the stigma that so often surrounds the subject of mental health.

When Danny was thirteen, his mother was involved in a near-fatal car accident where she lost her unborn child. She was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and continues to work with her challenges today. Throughout his teenage years, Danny became a young carer for his mother and two sisters and after a series of unfortunate events, Danny himself had a breakdown. This sparked his curiosity into the subject of mental health and a desire to turn his personal experience into something positive that could help and enable others.

In 2017 Danny decided to take some time off from acting and joined a fast-paced sales environment in London. He quickly progressed up the organisation, but soon realised he was losing sight of his work-life balance and his mental health was deteriorating. This was a useful reminder of the importance and value of looking after our own well-being.

Danny talks openly about his own experience, shares his insight and enables participants to create positive change during times of adversity and beyond.

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