Loneliness and social isolation in the time of COVID-19

Kathy Matheson

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Loneliness is a feeling of distress people experience when their social relations are not the way they would like. It is a personal feeling of social isolation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one in four Australians were lonely (bit.ly/2yjf6vA).

It is not yet known if Australians are lonelier due to social-distancing requirements and self- isolation, but it is important to take note, as lonely Australians have significantly worse physical and mental health than connected Australians (bit.ly/3aRvT6j).

This information sheet outlines some useful strategies you can use to cope with feelings of loneliness, isolation and anxiety that you may be having at this time.

Think positively

We experience loneliness because it is a trigger for us to reach out and connect with others. This can remind us of all the people we would like to get in touch with. Loneliness is usually temporary, although there is uncertainty about how long social-distancing rules will be in place. Some people will not experience loneliness at all, even among those who live alone.

For some of us the extra time at home has been a chance to reengage with hobbies, or home or garden projects. Now more than ever there is less reason to feel any shame about feelings of loneliness; it may feel easier to share with others if you are finding it tough, and you are more likely to feel supported and understood by others.

Community spirit

The greater understanding in the community about what it is like to feel lonely may encourage greater community spirit. Even with social distancing and stay-at-home rules, there are ways to support others in your community, such as talking to a neighbour over the fence, and saying hello to people you pass in the street while exercising or while at the supermarket.

You could also use phone and social media to talk with neighbours or put a letter or child’s drawing in their letterboxes. Neighbourhoods have also been connecting via displaying teddy bears and drawings in their windows.

Recognise differences

Everyone is different in how they will respond to restrictions on social outings and in-person contact. The experience of loneliness and ways of coping with it are very individual.

Some people enjoy being alone and those that have extra household members at home may even find this difficult. Other people may be struggling with reduced or no in-person social contact.

For those who live with others, it can be helpful to talk about your different needs so these can be understood.

Limit social media and media exposure

While social media can be great for maintaining contact with others, be mindful of not overusing it, as you may be drawn into discussions of all the challenges, and be exposed to lots of negative news. When using it, try to also share positive news (bit.ly/3d5yUla).

Take a break from listening to the news as it can make us feel preoccupied about how bad things feel.

rear view of man sitting on rock by sea

Supporting older Australians

Older Australians have been  strongly encouraged to stay at home at this time and many are having reduced or no contact from family and friends. But it is  important to not make too many assumptions about their feelings and needs.

It can be helpful to ask them what they think would be helpful and if there is anything you can do. Some strategies to help them include:

  • Talk to them about how they are feeling and how they are managing changes to their level of social contact.
  • Offer help to set up phone or video chats with family or friends or to write and send letters.
  • Offer to help them get involved with hobbies and perhaps an online group for a particular hobby.
  • Show or send them videos or photographs, letters or drawings.

Supporting children

With all the changes to children’s routines at the moment establishing a clear routine for them can be helpful. You can encourage your children to think of creative ways that they can connect with others, for example by sending a friend a picture, writing a letter to a grandparent or having a video chat with a friend.

Remind children that the extra time at home and away from friends is temporary. While for many families use of technology by all is normal, it is helpful to set limits and to make time for some other activities (e.g., board games, jigsaw puzzles, bike riding, or backyard cricket).

Seek help if you need it

If you are struggling to manage feelings of loneliness or if you are experiencing other challenges (e.g., physical or mental health difficulties, trauma, domestic violence) we recommend you seek help, such as from a psychologist or your GP.

Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of mental health concerns, including loneliness, anxiety and stress. A psychologist can help you manage your loneliness and/or other difficulties using techniques based on the best available research.

Readjusting when social life goes back to normal

Most people will probably adjust quickly to increased in-person social interactions when social distancing requirements are all removed. For others, it may be helpful to gradually increase social outings. If you experience social anxiety it may take a while to adjust and you may like to seek extra help at that time.

If you would like to schedule an video or phone consultation with a Karepsych psychologist please proceed to our online booking page. Alternatively, you can call the clinic on 1800 935 273.

This information sheet was produced by the Australian Psychology Society. The original document can be found here.


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