How warmth can alleviate winter loneliness

It’s quite common to feel isolated during the winter months. As the daylight hours reduce and the weather gets colder, the season often brings with it a sense of loneliness and detachment from our social circle. 

If we’re cold, we’re much more likely to feel lonely, according to a study on social exclusion. Our temperature also impacts our need to reach out to others for social interaction. This is down to our body’s natural instinct for self-preservation, making us more inward-focused. 

How can we leverage this connection to our advantage? 

We’ve looked even further into this and provided practical steps on how to stay warm and socially connected this winter. 

Could the reverse also be true? 

It’s intriguing how much our feelings can affect our physical health. As it turns out, it’s not just being cold that makes us feel lonely. The reverse could also be true.  

A recent psychological study found there to be an average 3-degree Celsius drop in those who recalled a time when they felt socially isolated. Compared to those who recalled positive social experiences. 

But, why do we physically respond to social isolation in this way? Well, it turns out that this response is a natural biological instinct that helps us survive. By experiencing a chill when we feel excluded, our body is preparing to protect us from danger.

Why do we feel lonelier in winter?

Many of us have felt a sense of loneliness creep up on us out of nowhere during winter. The colder weather can make socialising more difficult and less appealing, but there’s more at play here. The exposure we get to natural light decreases a lot, which can impact our emotional wellbeing.

It turns out that ‘the winter blues’, also identified as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a common form of depression that rises at this time of year. It causes feelings of lethargy and low mood and is usually associated with the seasonal switch.

Can being warm improve our mental health?

When we feel warmth on our skin, it sends a signal to our brain which results in the production of the hormone oxytocin. This chemical helps to boost our mental wellbeing by bringing comfort and contentment to our minds and bodies. 

We feel much more connected to ourselves and those around us when we feel warm and snug. Counteracting the feelings of loneliness and isolation.

It doesn’t end there though. By making sure we’re consistently warm, we can increase our ability to cope with stress and put us into a more positive mental state.

Socialising is key during winter

It’s natural to feel hesitant about trying to connect with others, especially if you’re feeling lonely, but prioritising being social can be a real mood booster.

Luckily there are plenty of options which can help if you’re feeling lonely, including:

  • Companionship services – befriending services offer programs that connect volunteers with individuals seeking a friendly connection. If you’re looking to give back or simply need someone to chat with, it’s a great option. 
  • Join a walking group – walking and socialising is a great way to get fresh air and move your body at the same time. Winter is a beautiful season to get out and explore. 
  • Look for a social club that focuses on your interests – do something you love while meeting others. 
  • Does your community centre need volunteers?  – meet others in your local areas while doing your bit.

Keeping warm in winter

The long winter months can be difficult for many of us, particularly if we are experiencing loneliness or struggling with our energy bills. It’s not always possible to have the heating on full blast, but there are some ways you can keep warm, for less money: 

  • Dress in warm and comfortable clothing – even when you’re inside you might find you need to put on a jumper or cardigan to maintain your inner temperature
  • Keep your feet warm – coldness always starts at the feet, wear some thick socks or comfy slippers to keep you snug
  • Engage in light exercise like yoga – this will generate warmth in your body and in turn increase your blood circulation. 
  • Grab some blankets – if you’re lounging on the sofa or working from home, you’ll find an instant warmth from the extra insulation when wrapping yourself in a blanket
  • Treat yourself to a hot drink – coffee or hot chocolate will warm you up inside and keep your hands warm while you’re holding the mug. 
  • Feed your body – eat a diet rich in healthy and nutrient-dense foods. It helps to regulate your temperature and keep your overall health in check.
  • Find a warm space – many local areas have free warm hubs or warm spaces where you can drop in, chat with others, and have a cup of tea.

If you are experiencing loneliness, help is available. You’re not alone