For anyone facing a chronic illness, isolation is likely to be no stranger. Feeling alone with your pain and struggles is normal, and to be expected, particularly when dealing with an invisible illness. Sensing stigma around your illness, or a lack of understanding from others will inevitably lead most people to withdraw, particularly during a flare-up or a time when things feel hard. It’s also important to note that you can feel lonely, even in a packed room, or in a busy house full of family.  

But it’s crucial to try to shift out of this mindset soon. Why? Because we know it doesn’t help. Not only that, but we also know it’s damaging to your long-term health. Research suggests that people who become isolated are more likely to become depressed, and less likely to engage in important self-management steps, such as getting enough physical activity and rest, as well as following a healthy, balanced diet.   

More Connection = Better Health Outcomes

When an individual is socially connected (by which we mean meeting people regularly, getting out and socializing and making connections), then the longer-term health outcomes for someone with a chronic condition, such as arthritis, are much more optimistic.  

Even though you may not often feel like it, reaching out to others is, in fact, a crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle when it comes to managing your condition. 

Follow our steps here to help you re-engage with other people, and with life in general, to improve not just your mental health, but also your physical health and wellbeing this autumn.  

Simple Tips for Re-Connection 

  1. (Re)Discover a Hobby: It doesn’t matter if this is a brand-new hobby, or one you used to enjoy. The key is to engage with something that you enjoy. Sign up and pay for a 6-, 8- or 10-week course to get you started. Why bother when you don’t feel motivated? Because it’s worth it. One 2017 study, published in the journal of Social Science & Medicine, found that engaging in hobbies helps people managing chronic conditions cope better by giving them an opportunity to feel a sense of control that is so often lost after a diagnosis. Instead of viewing yourself as limited, or ‘sick’, you can experience your body as something capable. Creating something or mastering a skill will help to boost your self-confidence and self-esteem, which not only feels good, but also impacts your health in a positive way. Why not start with one of our self-management courses? Living Well with Arthritis is a fantastic six-week course, held weekly (in person or online), where you get to learn vital tips on how to live a better life with arthritis and where you get to connect with others experiencing similar symptoms and challenges. Sign up here
  2. (Re)Connect with Family & Friends: Start with small steps, and don’t worry if you haven’t been in touch for a while. Remember the famous quote, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” In other words, the people that matter will understand and accept you. You should aim to be as honest as possible about what you have been enduring. You could say something like: “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch in a while. I’ve been experiencing some really difficult and challenging symptoms lately, and I’ve been feeling cut off from everyone. But, even just telling you that helps me a little. So, how have you been?” The idea is that you set a date to meet face-to-face then, whether it’s for a simple cup of coffee or a dinner out. You are sure to benefit from both (as is your friend or relative) because, for all of us, connection boosts our mental and physical health. So put that date in the diary, even if it’s two weeks from now.
  3. Get Outdoors: When we isolate ourselves, that often means staying indoors and being reluctant to venture outside for fear of social interaction. However, getting back outside, and even engaging in small talk with a shop assistant or someone at the bus stop, is a key component of recovering from an isolated mindset. All these little things stack up to help bring us back to a place where we are connecting with the outside world. Several studies even show that spending time outdoors can help boost your energy and immune system, as well as help you sleep better and recover faster if you get sick. If you feel overwhelmed about the thought of getting outside again, just start small. Drive to your local park or beach and get out and stretch your legs for ten minutes. Sit on a bench, breathe in the clean air and admire the view. Before you know it, you’ll be drawn to get outside almost every day, and you’ll reap the benefits almost instantly.
  4. Reach out to Others: Another way to connect is to explore communities online (Facebook Group), read our blog and listen to podcasts from experts in the field through the Arthritis Ireland podcast). Reading and hearing about others’ experiences with health challenges makes us all feel less alone. It makes our own lived experiences feel more valid, and we tend to feel more understood. During these interactions, you may also get tips from others regarding what helps them to manage their condition. In time, you are likely to build strong, longer-term relationships with an individual, or a group of people, whom you can connect with regularly for advice. They could become a vital source of support and a comfort through the difficult times and, in turn, you may find satisfaction from helping someone else going through a tough time, helping to inspire them with new ideas and ways of living that have helped you to manage your day-to-day life.
  5. Find your Purpose: Most of us find that our purpose changes throughout life. We may be business owners or caregivers at one time, and, at others, we may have more time for ourselves. But finding a purpose – any purpose – is essential for a healthy life. Recent research suggests that people with increased meaning and a sense of purpose are better off – they appear happier, exhibit increased life satisfaction, and report lowered depression. But how do you find your purpose? The key, experts believe, is to develop what is known as a ‘growth mindset’. This means constantly growing and stepping outside your comfort zone, embracing challenges as opportunities, persevering despite ‘failure’ and accepting feedback and constructive criticism. In fact, some people even manage to turn the pain they’ve experienced (emotional and/or physical) into their purpose, to help others. They feel grateful, and even stronger as a result of having survived their challenges. Watch this video to find out more about Carol Dweck’s theory on Growth Mindset. 


A Sympathetic Ear and Support

Remember, you deserve all the love and support that there is to help to deal with your arthritis. You were never supposed to do this all alone. Humans are designed to work in groups, supporting one another. If you are feeling isolated right now, reach out to talk to one of us through the Arthritis Ireland Helpline. All our volunteers are trained, and have experience of living with arthritis themselves, so they can offer a sympathetic ear, whilst also helping to empower you to take the steps you need to start to feel better and more connected with others. Our helpline (0818 252 846) is open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm.   

If your feelings of isolation, loneliness or depression become overwhelming, don’t hesitate to reach out for psychological help. Contact the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy for a therapist near you: