A few months ago, I sat in my spare bedroom to write my editor’s letter for the September issue of Women’s Health magazine. As always, I wrote it from the heart – a personal account of my state of mind at that time. The magazine was sent to print and I forgot my words, instead moving onto the next thing on my intimidatingly long to do list.
Several weeks later, a familiar red alert started appearing on the top of my Instagram telling me I’d been tagged in someone’s content. And my direct message in box started filling up. Hundreds of women began telling me they empathised with my words, with some going into moving detail about how lonely and isolated 2020 had left them. A serving MP even contacted me, saying I’d articulated in a few sentences what parliament had struggled to encapsulate when attempting to tackle the growing problem of societal loneliness.
My letter has clearly struck a nerve and unearthed a growing systemic issue that was causing pain and suffering to many.
This hypothesis was backed up when Women’s Health asked you in a detailed survey how you were feeling. Over 2,000 of you replied. The findings were stark – 79% of you feel lonelier now, than you did before the pandemic, which rises to 87% for single people.
So today we launch a new campaign: ‘The Loneliness Remedy.’ This hinges on a simple concept, rooted in the latest research on the significance of social connection: that much as you eat your fruit and veg, plan your at-home workouts and take time out for self-care, working on your ‘social nutrition’ – cultivating meaningful connections and caring for others, to avoid the problem of loneliness – is key to your health.
Our advice? That just as you strive to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, you aim for five socially nutritious interactions every day, too. In doing so, you bolster your ‘social biome’ – a metaphor coined by Jeffrey Hall, Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, to describe the medley of social interactions we get throughout a day. Much as you support your gut microbiome through eating a diverse range of plants and topping up with fermented foods, the idea is, so a mix of connections will help you to thrive.
Of course, for some of us, this isn’t easy. And, to be clear, this is not a stick to beat yourself with. Rather, it’s something to bear in mind when you’re planning your week and to help you to take a proactive approach when showing up for your social health. You can read up on how to get your other five a day, here.
In case you missed my editor’s letter which kickstarted our campaign, here it is in full.
The September 2020 editor’s letter that started it all
It’s month five of working from home for me, and I’m writing this from my spare bedroom.
My desk is a piece of garden furniture and I borrowed the chair I’m sitting on from the kitchen. My back is hunched as I stare at my laptop, I’m still wearing the kit I did a fairly sweaty workout in this morning and my four-year-old daughter has just had an almighty tantrum because I’ve banned her from watching mindless nonsense on YouTube. The glamorous life of an Editor-in-Chief, this isn’t. And the honeymoon period in which I relished the 10-second commute and living in leggings is well and truly waning.
I’ve worked full-time in London for 21 years and I love the office environment. I’ve carved my career through being inspired by smart thinkers; I’ve had some of my best belly laughs being entertained by my colleagues’ dating disasters. Working in the media gives me a buzz and, right now, I’m craving it. I know I should be grateful to have more time with my two children – and I am – but a screen is no replacement for the organic conversation the working day would normally bring. The truth is I’m lonely, and a bit bored. The lethargy is real; some days, my energy levels are so low I find it hard to motivate myself to commit to a day’s work. I’m distracted easily and turning to food as an emotional crutch – a sugar rush to see me through the next few hours.
In the grip of all of these emotions, I read a feature from this issue. Titled ‘This Is How One Silicon Valley Expert Defeats Distraction,’ it explores the roots of our need for distraction, and asks why we’re finding it increasingly difficult to focus. Whether you procrastinate by mindlessly scrolling through social media (show of hands?) or by walking to the fridge, it’s an attempt to escape negative or uncomfortable feelings, boredom included. It’s all too familiar. And if it’s familiar to me, I’m sure it’ll be familiar to many of you, too. So, let’s try to combat this together. You’ll find actionable advice in the feature, including how to identify your own distraction triggers, and why doing so can improve your productivity and mental wellbeing.
As I write this, lockdown is easing, but what the new normal looks like remains unclear. Has office life changed forever? What will school be like when my daughter starts reception in a matter of weeks? And with gyms in England having been given the go-ahead to reopen, will people rush back to the classes and trainers they used to love? I, for one, will be first in line. And once both of my children are in school, I’ll be going back to the office, too. For now, I’ll remain working in the spare room, trying not to get too distracted. Oops, I’ve just checked Instagram again. Improving my attention span is clearly a work in progress. As always, I hope you enjoy the issue. Until next month…
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