Even if some of us would normally sneer at the thought of Valentine’s Day, special occasions are something to look forward to this year. While known for its overpriced chocolates, flowers, and romantic dates, Valentine’s day this year can be an excuse to celebrate and connect with our loved ones.
For many of us, and especially for elderly people who may currently live alone Valentine’s day can be bittersweet. According to AgeUK, there are more than 1,4 million older people living in the UK who experience chronic loneliness. Social isolation and disconnectedness have been shown to contribute to loneliness and poor physical health, which are associated with higher mortality rates, and cognitive decline. Covid-19 health and safety guidelines have restricted social contact, which is having an effect on the population’s mental health. A survey published in 2021 studying worsening mental health and its link with loneliness, found that 30% of respondents had experienced depressed mood, anxiety symptoms, and difficulty sleeping. The data suggest that the pandemic has had a negative impact on mental health across Europe, with 29% of participants reporting feeling lonelier now than before the pandemic.
However, such feelings are not inevitable, 57% of respondents reported no change in loneliness, and many also reported no change in their mental health. Interventions to mitigate loneliness among at-risk groups are essential in limiting the impact of social isolation. We must raise awareness about what people themselves can do to take care of their overall well-being, such as keeping active and connecting with others in new and creative ways; such as arranging virtual dates over Facetime or Zoom, or watching movies together via apps such as Teleparty.
Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated by a romantic meal in a restaurant. Why not try cooking a meal at home instead? With little effort, cooking can give you a reason to reach out and be more social. Ask your children for help, or call your relative or friends to ask for that recipe you’ve always wanted to try. Spending time with friends and family is important for our wellbeing, warding off loneliness and positively affecting our health. Cooking is a great way to stimulate the brain, and a great skill to have when trying to live a healthy life. People who regularly cook at home consume fewer calories than those who cook less, as restaurant meals are packed with salt and butter and pre-made meals are full of preservatives.
Research has shown that while cooking at home can help us be healthier, it also boosts our mental health. Cooking provides a variety of situations that can help with our well-being, such as cooking for others- which in turn helps build and improve relationships. It gives us a feeling of autonomy, and the opportunity to learn and master new skills, which are both essential to maintain a feeling of purpose and personal satisfaction. Studies on the therapeutic effects of cooking and baking found that participants reported improved self-esteem as a result of increased concentration, coordination, and confidence. Additionally, participants reported that producing something they could keep or gift to others was rewarding.
Additionally, cooking something from scratch can take you out of your daily routine, making the day more exciting. Before the pandemic, a decline in home cooking and the associated confidence and skills had been recorded in a number of countries such as the UK. With our normal lives halted, people are finding more time to hone skills that they previously lacked time for. More people have taken up baking, which we saw on social media, with image after image of fluffy and flour coated sourdough loaves. The shortage of flour and dry yeast in most supermarkets attesting to the rise in baking as a coping mechanism.
From at-home virtual dates to thoughtful gifts, this year we need to take care and send extra love to our loved ones. Make this Valentine’s Day an opportunity to reach out to someone whom you haven’t spoken to in a while, friends or family. You never know who might be feeling lonely. Just spending time with elderly people can help prevent onset depression and reduce loneliness. Here at FitQuid, we aim to be a positive influence in building a happy and healthy community by providing digital support and motivation to keep individuals active and social. Cook something for someone yourself or someone you love and boost your mental health and physical well-being!
Auri Carballo Rolph