World Mental Health Day: A chat about loneliness with Lyvly member Andreea
Loneliness is often assumed to be something that affects older people, but it is in fact a worldwide epidemic that can impact people of any age. For young people, moving to a new city is a situation where they might be most vulnerable to experiencing loneliness, which is one of the reasons Lyvly was created, to offer a ready-made community to those living away from home.
As part of World Mental Health Day, we sat down with Lyvly member and PhD student Andreea-Mihaela Radulescu, to discuss the impact loneliness can have on our mental wellbeing and how her own experiences of moving to new cities has created a passionate advocate for community and meaningful connection.
Andreea, you have a background in Neuroscience, how does loneliness actually impact the brain?
Loneliness (aka social isolation) can have debilitating consequences which go hand in hand with depression and anxiety.
The human brain is quite plastic in the sense that it will learn what it gets exposed to and start getting used to it. People who continually experience social isolation will develop a reluctance to get out of their comfort zone to experience the world.
In today’s world where things can get hectic, it’s totally normal to want to relax and have some alone time. However, you shouldn’t really feel lonely when doing that - if you are, then it can be a sign that something is going wrong.
Is it common for people to feel lonely in big cities?
We all feel lonely sometimes; it's a normal experience. It is an unmet need for social interaction and relationships. In new cities this often becomes a challenge - first, because of language and cultural barriers, it takes a while to understand how different populations socialise. In some countries small talk doesn’t exist, and this could be quite a shock for people coming from countries where engaging in small talk is normal practice.
There is a real difference between feeling lonely and being alone. One can be in a room full of people, but if they don’t share common values and don’t interact at different levels, then it is hard to not feel lonely. I think people get that quite often when they go live in new cities.
"...it’s totally normal to want to relax and have some alone time. However, you shouldn’t really feel lonely when doing that - if you are, then it can be a sign that something is going wrong."
Do you think it’s easier to meet people in London?
In a place like London, although the options are endless, it can be very easy to not interact with people - many of us never even speak to our neighbours! The city can sometimes feel very impersonal, with everyone so busy and in their own world.
However, one of the biggest benefits of London is its diversity. If you want to find somebody that speaks the same language as you, you’ll find them. There are also endless communities and interest groups out there, which is great. But sometimes it can feel overwhelming, when I moved to London I wanted to join a swing dance group and there were about 20 - so I didn’t know which ones to choose!
What’s been your personal experience of moving to new cities?
It's been quite different depending on where I went. When I moved to the US or Germany, my experience was slightly different to the UK. In the UK I was with family and made good friends on my university course.
In the other places it was my first experience of living alone and building friendships from scratch. America's culture of being forward and friendly really helped, but the first few weeks were quite hard. You just have to build it up slowly, but it definitely made me more willing to get out of my comfort zone.
"I think it's...the sense of belonging that helps with mental wellbeing. Once you know you are all in a community...then you can feel right ‘at home’."
How did this experience shape your view on communities and well being?
It made me realise how crucial community is, and how important it is to be a good contributor in that community. Leading by example, helping people as much as you can, putting a smile on someone's face - it's really rewarding. I know this from both the perspective of someone who has been new to a community and someone who has welcomes others - so I know it makes a difference.
Through Lyvly, I’ve met so many different people from so many different places, at Friday social drinks you can meet people from all over the world!
Physiologically, how do shared living communities like Lyvly help with our mental well being?
I think it’s also the sense of belonging that helps with mental wellbeing. Once you know you are all in a community, despite coming from different places, or even living in different properties or areas, then you can feel right ‘at home’.
It’s all about the feeling of familiarity, a warm welcome makes a big difference. What’s also great about Lyvly is that you always have a familiar face to look for at socials, or a point of contact in case of an emergency.
Some members have moved thousands of miles away from their friends and family, so it’s great to have a home full of people who are willing to help them get settled in, or go out for a coffee or a walk when they’ve had a bad day.
What do you think is the most key factor in building meaningful connections away from home?
It’s not about how many people you can get together, but is about finding out what you have in common and building meaningful connections from that.
What unites people is activities. Whether it is cooking, yoga, board games or a pub quiz, bringing people together doing something the enjoy and encouraging them to share knowledge.
Personally I discovered that people connect very well when they go through a challenge together, trying to solve a problem - even if it is down to a pub quiz question, is rewarding and can prevent isolation. When you are in a team and put in front of a problem, your cultural differences dissipate and you just focus on finding a solution.
What’s your favourite thing about living in a Lyvly home?
The sense of community is great, and Lyvly offer exclusive experiences which make it easy to really enjoy the city you’re living in. The events also make it easy to approach people, you don’t just turn up at the bar and have to talk to a stranger,
We recently planned a dinner party the other day and suddenly the host’s house was unavailable. It took us about 10 minutes to find a different venue to host the evening, which is a perfect example of the community of kind and like-minded people that Lyvly is all about.
Andreea is a Lyvly member and one of our Wembley ambassadors. She is keen to grow the community in the Wembley area and connect with other members across London.