Wellbeing

Mike Lee: Combating Loneliness

 

At Reflex, we value mental health just as much as physical health. Science tells us that exercise and mental health are intertwined and we believe that making quality sports nutrition isn’t just about enhancing body condition, strength and fitness but also about helping reach goals, enhancing wellbeing and ultimately making people feel good 

We don't want anything to stop you reaching your goals and feeling your best! So, we've reached out to Reflex Ambassador Mike Lee, to share his experience with loneliness and how to tackle it! 

Mike's Experience

Imposter Syndrome, shame, guilt, self-loathing, denial. All feelings that I've felt when I've been struggling in times of loneliness. As a coach, I have often at many times, as many of you will have experienced first hand, been up-beat, extroverted and generally tried to be the best part of someone's day. A lot of the times this has not been disingenuous, I have always wanted to deliver the best I have on any given day to my clients and the people I coach. However, it is not always a true reflection of how I am feeling. I put this down to aiming to be a professional on a daily basis.

One of the first realisations I had that I was struggling with loneliness was actually when I was the centre of a gym. The CEO of one of the first every CrossFit gyms in the world. I was tasked with creating a better sense of community within the gym, a gym that would open it's arms to outsiders as well as lead the way with some of London's finest coaching.

To a large extent, I was incredibly successful, the gym flourished, it was a happier place to be and I effectively allowed myself to believe that I was a huge part of this.

I was not.

'I was simply its creator, I had created a huge community, that all held hands in a circle, but I was there standing at the middle of it, holding hands with no-one.'

I sometimes look at how I've lead my life and feel such guilt for becoming lonely. I have great people skills, I can communicate effectively, outside of teasing, I was never bullied growing up, and until recently, I've never really struggled to integrate myself when moving cities or countries.

'On the surface to many, it seems like everything is fine and dandy.'

On social media, my page seems popular, it's not huge, but it's not dead. People interact with my posts, stories and occasionally slide into my DMs.

This past two years has really shown the world that human beings are not designed to be isolated, they're not designed to be shut off from each other. I never fundamentally understood how frequent human interaction could help off-set these feelings of loneliness, but for many those feelings never go away.

A lot of people will have experienced small feelings of loneliness without even putting a label on it during this pandemic. It's no wonder that so many people were itching to get to the pub when the lockdowns ended. It wasn't necessarily because people were gagging for a drink, it was simply people were gagging for social interaction.

Being in solitude and loneliness are two very different things. I have experienced both, I have shut myself away in darker times to spend days and weeks working on myself, my direction, my personal growth and what I want from my life and who I want to be. This is solitude, it is isolation with a purpose. It was deliberately put on me, by me, in order to illicit growth. I became relatively fine being on my own in those days, or so I had convinced myself.

I still work to find the cure to loneliness, but I've slowly realised more and more than loneliness isn't about being surrounded by people.

'it's not about how many friends you have or how often you socialise, it's about connection.'

People feel lonely when they lack connection. Many experience loneliness for the first time when a connection is severed, whether it's a pet, a relative, a partner or even a place of work, if the connection is severed in some way, a hole is left. This hole will likely never go away completely, but instead new connections can be built, that cover the hole, or build perhaps an even greater sense of belonging.

I came across an article a while back from a lady called Lotte Brouwer (@yespleaseblog) and it had a fantastic quote.

"I think that we have to realise that times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.” – Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski."

I like this quote, but as a coach I want to add to it. Times of stress are indeed signals for growth, but chronic stress, stress that lasts a long period of time, is also a signal that you're likely taking on too much. At this point you have to evaluate that ultimately chronic stress is one of the greatest aging factors a human can experience, so what are you going to do about it?

Now you've heard a brief account of my experience with loneliness, someone who doesn't necessarily appear to suffer from those feelings on the surface, we should talk about ways in which I find useful to tackle loneliness.

1- Training 

Might seem like an obvious plug for someone whose career revolves around the health and fitness industry, but let's talk about why training can help you directly or indirectly with loneliness.

If you go to a gym where people train seriously, I can guarantee you will see people who have been hurt emotionally, who have felt abandonment or loneliness. You will see people who are channelling an emotion that feels uncontrollable into something they can very specifically control. Human beings do not like to feel completely out of control, there is a sense of routine in each of our lives that is incredibly powerful for helping with our sense of purpose.

On a social level, you will be surrounded by people who you already have a connection with - the gym. Whilst a lot of the time it may feel inappropriate to talk to someone at the gym, it's only a matter of time before you learn someone's name or make eye contact enough times that one of you will introduce yourself.

On a physiological level, we're moving blood around the body, fresh, oxygenated blood. The clarity that gives to a person, especially post workout, is unrivalled. Whilst I have suffered through many a workout, there are very few workouts I've finished and not expressed a sense of gratitude that I've got through the workout a slightly better person, both physically and mentally.

All these benefits will likely compound themselves into a desire to eat healthier and sleep better, all eliciting positives benefits on your mental and physical wellbeing - consequently putting you in better stead to tackle any feelings of loneliness.

2- Forming new connections

Social media is a place where you form thousands of micro connections, people feel like they can touch you and feel you, but never are they actually part of your life. Some of the loneliest people I've spoken to are those with hundreds of thousands of followers. This is not to say each and every one of them is lonely, many have families and have unbreakable connections with the people closest to them.

When someone interacts with me on social media, my first port of call is to talk to them, not even from a sales point, I'd just rather form a connection with a face and a voice than some text on a screen. From there, that relationship may flourish into something more professional, or personal, but rarely will you find out if you don't move past the micro connection.

3- Work

Your work and career is simply that, it's a means to facilitate the experiencing of life. You will often have your work in common with colleagues, and connections can be formed there. However if you're not one to socialise with your work frequently, then put your phone down and look up.

There's a high chance there's someone nearby that you could be forming a deeper connection with, one that will outlast any promotion. I'm yet to find a person who feels fulfilled in life who hasn't had deeper connections beyond their workplace. Work hard by all means, just don't forget about the rest of your life. The planet is full of connections waiting to happen, and it would be a tragic story to regret not making them.

Find the points in this blog useful? Connect with Mike on Instagram - @MikeleePT
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