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“Taking care of ourselves is so important” – how young people are tackling loneliness

“Taking care of ourselves is so important"

How young people are tackling loneliness

Loneliness affects many of us and is a key factor behind poor mental health. But the topic also carries weight, apprehension and stigma, making it difficult to talk about and address.

I’m Martha, a youth advocate for Plan International UK and AstraZeneca’s Young Health Programme UK. Together with my fellow advocates, we’re finding ways to improve young people’s mental health across the UK.

Addressing loneliness is a key part of this. Despite pandemic restrictions lifting, loneliness remains widespread among young people, with 66% teenagers surveyed saying they “sometimes” or “often” feel alone.

As advocates, we talked about what we could do to tackle loneliness. A common theme was being active and positive members of our communities. We also agreed that we can best support others when we are ourselves fulfilled and happy.

We wanted to share some of the ways we’ve been addressing loneliness in our own lives and circles. We hope that they may be useful to others too. 

Martha: Talking it out with friends

Photo of Martha, a youth advocate for Young Health Programme UK
Martha, 24, London

I discussed the topic of loneliness with friends over Zoom. We agreed that our early 20s can be a period of intense loneliness, as either we travel to new places, or our friends move away from us.

While undoubtedly exhilarating, new environments can be isolating. New schedules fail to align and thwart socialising. Meanwhile, descending upon graduate life is a toxic air of competition, as we set our achievements against the barometer of our peers.

Hearing what my friends had to say made me feel hopeful as I recognised their strength and ability to pour into others’ jugs even when theirs are half empty. Expressing our vulnerabilities provided an opportunity to support one another and strengthen our friendship.  

Anjani: Taking time for yourself

Anjani, 24, Greater Manchester

We schedule time with friends, family and those important to us. So, why do we not schedule time for ourselves?

Taking care of ourselves is so important. To put this into practice, I decided to take on the Five Ways to Wellbeing – connecting with friends and family, getting active, learning something new, giving to others and taking notice of the present moment.

Here’s what I did:

  • Connect: I spent time with family for my grandma’s bir­­­thday
  • Be active: I danced at a wedding reception
  • Keep learning: I took time to do some reading
  • Give: I made hot drinks for everyone at home
  • Take notice: I took time to look at the scenery while I was travelling

Work and responsibilities are always going to be there. But if we do not take care of our mental and physical health, we won’t be able to be the best version of ourselves and give the best to the people in our lives.  

Miles: Bringing the conversation to the workplace

Photo of Miles, a youth advocate for Young Health Programme UK
Miles, 23, Cambridge

I organised a discussion around young people’s mental health with colleagues at my place of work.

Having these conversations was incredibly rewarding and we were able to discuss topics around loneliness in young people, feelings of isolation and imposter syndrome, and the importance of being able to speak up when we’re struggling.

It was incredibly valuable to include both junior and senior employees in this discussion, as it meant we could share experiences between generations and talk openly about how we can all support the young people in our lives.

Talking about mental health is so important to break the stigma, improve relationships and create an environment where people can speak freely and get the right support if they need it.

Hagitha: Channelling stress into exercise

Photo of Hagitha, a youth advocate for Young Health Programme UK
Hagitha, 16, London

During the week of my exams, my anxiety and stress was through the roof, and I felt trapped. To help with this, I went on walks, and I went to the gym.

Having alone time, whether surrounded by nature or surrounded by machines and weights, allowed me time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be. I channelled all my pain, stress and anxiety into the workouts. Going alone meant I could focus on only myself without any distractions.

While going to the gym gives me physical benefits it also gave me emotional benefits. I felt more confident! This may be because of the endorphins, but regardless of the cause, the bettering of my self-esteem is what I’m focusing on. 

Hafsa: Switching off and reconnecting with nature

Photo of Hafsa, a youth advocate for Young Health Programme UK
Hafsa, 24, London

Lately I have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the screen, both during my working hours and what is supposed to be my downtime. On some level, this routine seems unavoidable, but it is has also increasingly led me to feel 'boxed in' and isolated from my immediate community and physical surroundings.

I decided to make good on a promise I had made to myself — purposefully disconnecting from the online sphere and reconnecting with nature. It is easier said than done when you live amidst the hustle and bustle of central London, but on this occasion, I found myself in the quieter, more tranquil city of Oxford.

Exploring public trails throughout the parks, meadows, and alongside canals was a refreshingly contemplative and meditative experience. It grounded me, helped me both refocus on my short-term goals and reconnect with my own self.

Zoe: A cup of tea in the back garden

Photo of Zoe, a youth advocate for Young Health Programme UK
Zoe, 22, Hertfordshire

Since starting my first full-time job during Covid-19, I have been working from home and have struggled with the lack of social interaction with my colleagues.

Nature has always been important to me, and I often take time to enjoy being outside, even if it is for a quick break from the screen and to get my legs moving after sitting down for a long time.

Every year, a family of great tits nests in our garden. I enjoy watching the mother fly off into other gardens and return with worms and seeds. For me, this helps tackle isolation as it reminds me that I am part of something.

I often sit outside with my mum, who also works from home, and have a catch up and a cup of tea whilst enjoying the nature on our doorstep. It seems like something quite small but it’s almost like a reset button in my day that enables me to be more productive.

Inspired by these youth advocates?

Read about what they've been doing to improve young people's mental heath.

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