Loneliness is one of the biggest contributors to unhappiness, low mood, and even serious mental and physical health problems. At current estimation, millions of people across the world feel lonely, at least at times – this can be a passing feeling, giving us a push to reach out to friends, or something that lasts a lot longer and feels a lot worse. It can come from all kinds of places, with some people just finding it harder to make friends than others, or feeling as though there’s a kind of barrier between them and the friends they do make – everyone’s different! Sometimes the causes can be a bit more obvious – like working far away from home, having caring responsibilities, or feeling like the odd one out for all kinds of reasons.
People who say they feel lonely often talk about not having anyone to confide in or share problems with, which makes everything else – like stress, for example – twice as hard. Loneliness can also be really difficult to own up to, because most people like to be thought of as popular and doing well. Even admitting to yourself that you might be lonely can be painful, let alone saying it to other people. It can feel like there’s something wrong with you or it’s all your fault, as if you might be unlikeable, when actually all kinds of things get in the way of us getting to know each other. If nobody admits to feeling lonely, everyone who feels lonely ends up thinking that they’re the only one, when actually there’s all kinds of people who’d like them a lot if they had the chance.
Working in a kitchen – even a really busy one – can be a lonely thing. People can come and go, and if you don’t feel like you’re connecting with the people around you, then that can feel just as bad as working on your own all day. Weird or long hours can also really mess with your life outside work, if you’re on antisocial shifts and your mates work outside the industry. You can also just wind up too tired to make the effort at the end of the day.
Added to all this, COVID-19 – with lockdowns, furlough, and not being able to see the people you care about – has led to lots of people feeling really isolated, often for the first time. Loneliness isn’t always something that just goes, even when the situation that causes it changes. Over the last two years, many of us have found our social skills, or our faith in our social skills, getting worse. Even when kitchens have been open, there have been times that we’ve been allowed to go to work in close quarters all day, but then have to stay away from our families. A lot of us have fallen out of the habit of talking to people, or we might be missing friends and loved ones who died before their time. Loneliness can be a big part of grief, and most of us know someone who didn’t survive the virus.
What can you do? If you’re feeling a bit lonely, bite the bullet and see if anyone fancies meeting outside work. The worst thing they can say is no, and that’s their loss. If you’re worried about your social life outside work, there’s all kinds of things you can do – volunteer, get involved with a sports team, a community garden, a choir, or a walking group. If you’re really worried, and you’re genuinely doubting whether you can make friends, the first thing you can do is remember that you’re a person worth liking, you just need to make the right connections. But don’t just take our word for it, you can talk to your GP and they can point you in the direction of community groups and activities, or they can work with you to build up your confidence and reduce anxiety around social situations. Loneliness is a valid reason to reach out, you won’t be wasting their time! You might also find that the feeling passes, or that circumstances change. But it really isn’t you, it’s everything else that’s the problem. Even if you think you might be an acquired taste, there’s plenty of people out there who’d love to have a mate like you.
If you have been affected by this article or would like more information and access to wellbeing and mental health support please contact us at email@example.com or head to www.thechefpartnership.com
Author: Dr. Fredric Cooper, University of Exeter