Outside of the digital space, there are steps you can take to help those who may be feeling lonely. I try to use the action of walking into a new space as a trigger that reminds me to smile at people. I will often randomly strike up conversations in lifts, or in cafés with people who are serving me. I try to say something warm and positive, whether that’s complimenting their smile or thanking them for opening the door – whatever it is.
Now, I don’t have problematic social anxiety – so it’s easy for me to start conversations with strangers. I’m comfortable saying, ‘Oh, I love your shoes,’ or, ‘What are you listening to?’ If you’re the same, then you can use that strength as a way to help people. You might not know who is among the 50 per cent feeling lonely, but you can bring a moment of connection to those that you meet as you go about your day.
The UK research showed 82 per cent of people agreed that a small moment of connection can break down divisions between people. That’s part of the reason I’ve made a personal commitment as a leader to get to know the people around me better. I want the people in my life – personally and professionally - to know that I notice them, and care about all the parts of who they are, to strengthen those relationships.
Volunteering, which I’ve discussed before, is also a great means of fostering community connection. I’ve got a beautiful friend who organises regular catch-ups with all her friends to spend some time together at FareShare. Instead of going out to dinner to fancy restaurants they help others have dinner! It’s a way to connect, give back, and socialise all at once. Volunteering or participating in community activities is a great way to strengthen relationships and to meet new people in a more comfortable and less threatening way. Similarly, my husband and I have started a team walking/running group to help support our charity project Finnan’s Gift for exactly this reason. It was something we could do personally to bring people together once a year to make a difference, while being healthy and having fun, too. Feel free to join us if you’d like to connect!