Combatting loneliness – step by step

In July, Bristol Wellbeing College is launching a new five-week walking and wellbeing course, free for adults in Bristol! Connect with your five senses, learn how nature can help you combat loneliness, and enjoy some lovely strolls and chats with fellow learners. Keep an eye on our webpage or follow us on Instagram and Twitter @wearesecondstep for updates.

In the meantime, Bristol Wellbeing College learner, Chrissy, shares her insights into how finding the awe in the outdoors can help us cope with loneliness:

As a nation, the UK has one significant thing in common with Pop Princess, Britney Spears.

Sadly, it’s not our ability to perform a flawless body roll, or impeccable taste in bellbottom jeans.

Our loneliness is, literally, killing us.

The Community Life Survey from the Government Statistical Service (GSS) found that, in 2020/21, approximately 3 million people in England felt lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’.

This is the same as in 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Further information from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness found that around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

And up to 85% of young disabled adults (18–34-year-olds) feel lonely on a regular basis.

This is a big deal for two reasons

  1. Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, a weakened immune system, anxiety and depression.
  2. It just sucks (conclusion made by me).

For those of us who struggle with mental health issues or disabilities, who are neurodivergent or just plain shy, typical ‘solutions’ to loneliness simply don’t cut it.

When your loneliness is caused by an inability to do certain things, adding more things you can’t do or cope with is a recipe for failure.

Alexa, play Walking Away by Craig David

May was Living Streets’ National Walking Month.

With this, the organisation launched #Try20 – asking people to walk for 20 minutes every day.

The benefits of walking are numerous, including reducing the risk of preventable health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease – and reducing the risk of other chronic conditions.

Also, it helps with loneliness.

Research published in the Scientific Reports journal concluded that getting outside in nature is an effective way to relieve loneliness, especially for those living in dense urban areas.

To measure the effect of the environment on mood, researchers collected real-time data using the app Urban Mind.

They found that “perceived overcrowding” increases loneliness by 39%, whereas seeing nature-type things like trees or birds reduces loneliness by 28%.

Awe Walks

Scientists from the University of California argue that natural areas in cities help to enhance feelings of attachment to a place when you add one magic ingredient – awe.

Led by Virginia Strum, the study divided a group of 52 adults into two groups and sent them off on weekly 15-minute walks.

Half of the volunteers were allowed to just do their thing, while the other half were given specific instructions on how to experience and seek out feelings of awe on their walk.

These instructions made it clear that there was no need to climb a mountain to experience awe, instead taking a new approach to noticing natural surroundings.

Becoming aware of sounds, smells, changing colours and soft breezes is more than enough to get some awe a-brewin’.

At the end of the test, the researchers found that the awe group not only reported experiencing more awe, but also reported other positive outcomes.

According to the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog

“They also felt more socially connected, and reported bigger increases in positive emotions — including prosocial emotions such as gratitude and compassion, and also joy — while they were walking.

“The boost in prosocial emotions, specifically, carried through into everyday life. Daily distress also decreased more over time in the awe group.”

Create your own awe walk

To get you started, here are a few guidelines:

  1. Choose a place to go for your Awe Walk that allows you to feel connected to nature. This could be anything from the woods to a nearby park, or even your garden.
  2. Disable your phone notifications and spend your walk observing your senses.
  3. Often a feeling of awe starts out like a mild, happy surprise. When you pay attention to it mindfully, this sensation can expand and grow.
  4. Pay attention to what catches your eye:
  5. Are there new leaves coming through on trees?
  6. Is the sun rising, setting, or peeking out behind a cloud?
  7. How is the breeze animating plants and trees?
  8. Is that a cat? Hi kitty!
  9. Can you hear birdsong? How many different types of birds can you hear?
  10. If you can take your shoes off, how does the ground feel beneath your feet?
  11. Try to ignore logical thoughts and worries and allow yourself to walk in a state of concentration just on the here and now, feeling rather than thinking.

Two new ways to walk

  • Slow Ways is an initiative to create a nationwide network of walking routes connecting all of Britain’s towns and cities.

With Slow Ways, people can follow existing paths, trails, and roads to walk and wheel between neighbouring areas – or combine them to go even further.

With people walking, reviewing, rating and creating new routes, this will eventually build into a network of ‘verified’ routes that people can use with confidence.

In simple terms? User-created walking journeys for every person, no matter what their limitations.

  • Bristol Wellbeing College will soon launch a walking course that will incorporate the five senses and various ways to wellbeing, teaching participants ways in which to combat loneliness while having a lovely chat and stroll.

Now get out there and experience some awe, you fabulous human.

Chrissy xxx

Join Bristol Wellbeing College – free mental health and wellbeing workshops for adults in Bristol

If you’re interested in signing up for our upcoming walking course or any of our other workshops, keep an eye on our webpage or follow us on Instagram and Twitter @wearesecondstep for updates.

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