• Loneliness and isolation have a significant impact on our health, but relationships aren't always easy to find

  • Author Gill Hasson offers advice on recognising and nurturing the good relationships that bring us joy, laughter and support

  • If you are struggling with loneliness or maintaining relationships, our therapists and counsellors can support you – find yours here 

As the first few lines of Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem ‘People Need People’ tells us:

People need people,

To walk to

To talk to

To cry and rely on,

People will always need people.

To love and to miss

To hug and to kiss.

Human beings are social beings; we need to interact with others; to connect and to feel that we belong and are valued. Having relationships with others is important; we need positive relationships. Who are the positive people in your life? Who do you enjoy spending time with? Who, for example, makes you laugh; is fun and lively to be with? Is there someone with whom you have shared interests? Who in your life is supportive and encouraging?

The positive people in your life do not just have to be friends or family; they could be colleagues or neighbours.

The person you can talk to if you’re worried could be your GP, a counsellor, someone at a support group or at the end of a helpline. Maybe the person who introduces you to new worlds, ideas, and interests is a tutor on a course or an author of interesting books.

Maybe it’s someone on TV – David Attenborough and his programmes about wildlife or Brian Cox and his programmes about space, for instance. Perhaps there’s a comedian on radio or TV who makes you laugh.

Choosing to surround yourself with people who uplift you is a form of self-care.

As Karl Marx advises; ‘Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.’

Connect with friends and family. Show interest, care, and concern. Keeping regular contact in person is good but even a message or phone call can make a difference.

Of course, having good relationships with others isn’t something that just happens. You have to make time and effort.

If you don’t have good friends and family around you – if you need more positive relationships in your life – start to meet new people. One of the best ways to do this is to connect with people on shared interests. Of course, making new friends isn’t always easy. But just as keeping friends takes time and effort, so does making new friends; you need to be willing to meet others, to be yourself and give something of yourself.

Another way to connect with other people and experience positive relationships is through volunteering for a cause or local community initiative that interests you.

Doing something to benefit someone else can make you and the person you are helping feel good. Studies show that helping others creates feelings and attitudes that can lead to better physical health, better mental health, and overall happiness.

Volunteering is also a good way to meet people – other volunteers – and make friends. You can meet and create bonds with people who want to make a contribution to the lives of others; you have a common cause that is another opportunity to create meaning and purpose in your life.

Volunteers can do almost anything: there’s a huge range of volunteer opportunities available to you. Whether it’s serving tea at a local hospice, helping at a local community food project or an animal rescue centre, working with refugees, advocating for someone with a learning disability or mental health problem, or mentoring people leaving the criminal justice system, not only can you make a contribution to other people’s lives, but you can be involved in something that’s relevant to your values and interests. It could be something related to politics, the environment and conservation, arts and music, or perhaps some voluntary work with older people, families, and children. See the ‘Do It’ website www.do-it.org for volunteering opportunities in the UK.

This is an edited extract from The Self-Care Handbook: Connect With Yourself and Boost Your Wellbeing by Gill Hasson

Further reading

Why are friends so important?

How good relationships can boost our health

Understanding and managing the loss of relationships

How positive male role models helped me turn my life around