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20 April 2018
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When life suddenly stops

A Red Cross study found that 9 million people reported feeling always or often lonely.

Lonely

Physical Health

Daily we get calls from people living with a chest condition who are feeling very scared and lonely. Being diagnosed with a chronic lung condition can be worrying. It changes your life forever. Being short of breath may make it difficult to keep up with friends and extreme coughing fits can be embarrassing in public. Sudden attacks of breathlessness can be really scary, especially if you’re alone or away from home, your medication and your nebuliser. Life now takes careful planning as rushing not only increases your breathlessness but your anxiety too. All this can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression and isolation. Contrary to what many people believe, loneliness isn’t just a result of being alone or an absence of friends. It is a deeper problem that is caused by thoughts and feelings of inadequacy, imperfection and shame. Chronically lonely people are often holding onto pessimistic and bleak predictions about the prospects of finding companionship, social connections and supportive relationships. A chronic lung condition can make you feel extremely lonely.

Mental Health

Mental health, when dealing with any chronic illness, is just as important as physical health. Loneliness ravages our immune system, leaves us more vulnerable to cancer, affects our heart health, lowers our pain threshold, raises our blood pressure, tightens our arteries and puts us at greater risk of dementia. It is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more tightly linked to our mortality than better-known lifestyle risks like obesity and lack of exercise. Lonely people are stressed most of the time.

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What can you do?

Think about what is making you feel isolated

Pay attention to self-degrading thoughts like "I wish I wasn’t sick, it means I never have interesting things to say" or "People never seem to get me or how difficult it all is when I’m struggling to breathe." Social opportunities, when you have a chest condition, can seem like a heavy burden. The more you feel lonely, the more you feel inept and unworthy, the more you stop believing anyone will ever like you. A lonely person is unable to put their best foot forward in any given social situation. Hence, loneliness feeds on itself. You are not alone. Estimates based on general practice records suggest that 8 million people have been diagnosed with asthma, 1.2 million with COPD, and over 150,000 with interstitial lung diseases (pulmonary fibrosis or sarcoidosis). An estimated 86,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with lung cancer, and over 5,000 (mainly men) have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The numbers are pretty big. You are far from alone. Replace negative self-talk with affirming messages, such as, “I am perfectly lovable just as I am,” and “I welcome love, friendship and support into my life.”

Fight the urge to isolate yourself and make new connections

Isolation validates your fears that you are not worthy of the love and support you absolutely deserve. Sometimes you have to force yourself to do exactly that which you are dreading, like putting yourself out there. Nurture your support network. Even if there is only one person to start with, you can build on it. Open yourself up, take risks, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Since loneliness results in isolation, start by sharing aspects of yourself, including experiences, feelings, memories, dreams and wishes. This will help you feel more known and understood.

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Start slowly

If you've felt lonely for a long time, or even if you're surrounded by people, it can be terrifying to think of trying to meet new people, or opening up to people for the first time. Be brave and reach out to someone. It doesn't have to be face to face; you could share a post on social media. Take advantage of all the services and schemes that are available nationwide to combat loneliness. Elefriends is an online service where you can be yourself. We all know what it’s like to struggle sometimes, but its a safe place to listen, share and be heard. Health Unlocked is an online social community run by organisations such as Asthma UK and The British Lung Foundation where people come together to chat, share hints, tips and life stories, supporting each other along the way.

Ask for what you need.

Find your voice. Tell people what you need from them to alleviate the loneliness. Friends respond to direct messages for help and support. Give it a try, you might be surprised! Age Concern have a telephone befriending scheme - Call in Time - where they match you up with a volunteer who has similar interests, for a friendly, weekly chat.

The British Lung Foundation have a help line 03000 030 555 you can call and when you are ready to step out there are support groups like Breathe Easy up and down the country where you can meet like minded people.

Take action.

That means the simplest way to ease feelings of loneliness can be to try to meet more, or different, people. What about a hobby, interest or friendship group? Can you think of anything you're interested in, a class or a group you've heard of, that could help you connect with new people? If you're going to a group or class, see if someone you know will go along with you the first time, or ask whoever runs the class or group if you can just go along and watch at first. Focusing on a shared activity can help relieve the pressure you may feel to talk about yourself. Singing for breathing is a fun activity that’s shown to promote well being and confidence as well be helpful for many lung conditions. Art therapies can help people stay well, recover faster, manage long term conditions and experience a better quality of life. They may be available locally why not speak to your doctor? Don’t wait for an invitation. Be willing to take a risk, be proactive and invite people to share in your life, whether it is for coffee, lunch, a walk, an event or a gathering in your home.

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Be careful when comparing yourself

It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others, we all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside.

The fact is that we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, which can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely. It's important to remind yourself that you don't know how people feel when they are alone. Sharing your life with others living with a disabling lung condition means you can be more honest about how you’re coping and swap ideas and strategies that help others cope with activities of daily living both mental and physical. Every day we take calls from customers looking for a nebuliser "like the one my friend has recommended." It could be a mains operated machine that proved reliable and efficient or a portable one that has enabled "the friend" to open up their life even more. It’s not just nebulisers, there are lots of useful hints and tips that can all come together to make life living with COPD, IPF, Asthma, Bronchiectasis and other lung conditions more worthwhile.

So why not start now and ask for help?

You don't have to go through this on your own. Lots of organisations can help you make connections and if we can be of service with a portable nebuliser to help you take that first step then why don't you get in touch by giving us a call or sending us an email?.



Photo credits: Huy Phan, Marina Shatskih, PixabayRobbie Weaver.

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