Unique rituals that make everyday tasks more meaningful may help ward off loneliness, research suggests.
Britons have been living with coronavirus restrictions for almost a year. Some have endured ill health, mourned the loss of loved ones or suffered financial insecurity as a result of the pandemic.
Even those who have escaped the coronavirus outbreak relatively unscathed have found social distancing a challenge, with reports of loneliness and mental health issues on the rise as officials work to get a handle on the situation.
While it may sound farfetched, scientists from the University of California-Riverside have reported "preparing tea in a certain way" may help keep loneliness at bay.
People who endure chronic loneliness often feel their life lacks meaning. Creating rituals around how you make a cup of tea or even eat a cream-filled biscuit may give life a little more purpose, according to the scientists.
Between 3 April and 3 May 2020, during the UK's first lockdown, 5% of Britons – around 2.6 million adults – said they "often or always" felt lonely.
During the same time period, just under a third (30%) – 7.4 million – said their wellbeing had been affected due to loneliness in the past seven days.
Studies have linked loneliness to an increased risk of premature death and heart disease, with one paper even suggesting having poor social connections is as bad for health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
"Many people are trying to find structure right now because everything is so chaotic," said Professor Thomas Kramer, Riverside study author.
"The implications of our study are if you feel lonely, find a ritual. It doesn't have to be elaborate.
"It can help you feel less lonely by providing a sense of meaning and purpose."
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The Riverside scientists asked a group of volunteers a series of questions to assess their degree of loneliness.
The participants were then given a range of products that they were told to use, or imagine using, in a ritualistic way.
For example, some were told to eat a cream-filled cookie by twisting the two biscuits apart, licking the filling and then dunking it into a cup of tea. Others ate the cookie in their usual way.
Perhaps surprisingly, the individuals who turned the cookie eating into a ritual felt immediately less lonely and as if life had more meaning.
"Engaging in even minimal, unfamiliar rituals reduces loneliness", the scientists wrote in the Journal of Marketing Research.
Read more: How to spot someone is lonely and what to do
Professor Kramer added: "We found something as simple as preparing tea in a certain way, as long as it's interpreted as a ritual, can make the experience more meaningful.
"This makes people feel less lonely."
The scientists believe governments should promote rituals that do not require the public to purchase certain products.
They added, however, the participants' loneliness was only analysed immediately after performing the ritual, not long-term.
Creating rituals may also be inappropriate for people with obsessive compulsive disorder.
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