How to tackle social isolation

Article by Tracy McBeth /
Bupa /
April 15, 2020 /
Click here to view original /

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve been told to practice social distancing, so people are finding creative ways to tackle social isolation.

We know feelings of social isolation can affect our mental health and physical wellbeing.

During these strange times many people are relying on technology as a way of keeping in touch and continuing their social life.

Thanks to video conferencing tools we can attend work meetings, exercise classes, and even log onto virtual trivia nights and dinner parties.

University of Melbourne sociologist, Dr Lauren Rosewarne, says our social media obsession means we’re better prepared than ever to cope in these unprecedented times.

“We’ve already integrated social media into our lives for over for a decade,” says Dr Rosewarne. “There’s no longer an ‘online’ and ‘offline’ life for many of us. We’ve actually been training for this moment without knowing it for a while.”

Dr Rosewarne says the central difference is that choice is taken away. She points out that many people have enjoyed staying indoors and texting friends for the past decade, but now that it’s our only option there are many people struggling with the idea.

“As humans we tend to catastophise; we look at it all as one massive problem. But if we break it into small problems, these can often be overcome” says Dr Rosewarne. “We don’t need to be with people 24/7, but we might have certain acute needs that technology can help us fill.”

Tips to help tackle social isolation

If you fear social isolation at this difficult time these tips may help.

Know your needs

Work out your specific needs and triggers in terms of feeling lonely and isolated, then put in place what works for you to help you overcome these feelings.

“There is no one-stop shop to suit everyone,” says Dr Rosewarne. “Some people’s need for social contact is a lot higher than others.”

If you’re used to working in open offices with a lot of chatter, or work is your primary social outlet, then you may find working from home difficult.

“Work out which needs you wish to have met,” says Dr Rosewarne. “If it is simply to collaborate with your colleagues then you can look into video conferencing tools. Or maybe there isn’t enough noise around you, in which case there are plenty of sites where you can have café noise (or something similar) playing in the background.”

“It’s not a perfect system but there’s lots of ways you can replicate things you’re used to from outside life through using the available technology to help you feel less lonely,” she says.

Communicate your needs

Are you someone who is happy texting, or would you rather pick up the phone? Being open about your needs is important at this time.

“Some people may assume a phone call is intrusive, so if you want that phone call either make it yourself or ask for it from friends and family,” says Dr Rosewarne. “A regular phone or video call, or eating your lunch with someone else online, may go some way towards helping you meet your needs.”

The power of a phone call

We know older people are more at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic and the elderly are also vulnerable to social isolation at this time.

While many older Australians have embraced technology, not everyone has access to the online world.

“I think we should never underestimate the power of a phone call,” says Dr Rosewarne. “We’re not going to be able to drop around to see our parents and grandparents at the moment. But we can reach out to them on the phone so they don’t feel too alone at this time, which is really important.”

Thinking about others in your community is also important. Bupa Aged Care homes are encouraging people, particularly children, to write to residents while visitor restrictions are in place.

Dr Rosewarne says considering others and perfoming acts of kindness can be a nice distraction from our own feelings of discomfort or loneliness.

“Most people want to feel needed. I think being willing to help others can make us feel useful at a time where many of us are feeling useless,” she says.

A touch of culture

Many places like libraries, museums and national parks have created virtual experiences for adults and children at this time.

Why not take a virtual trip across the country or globe to check out that exhibit you’ve always wanted to see? Or you could learn more about a subject or culture that has always fascinated you.

“I’ve been really delighted to see all these really interesting and diverse places making themselves relevant through virtual tours and making resources available online,” says Dr Rosewarne. “It’s not only helping people who are stuck at home, but it’s also stepping in and filling that educative function for parents who are entertaining children when you can’t just step outside and say, ‘let’s go to the zoo, or the park’.”

The silver lining

“While this isn’t something any of us have chosen,” Dr Rosewarne says, “this ‘social experiment’ is actually giving us a whole heap of new skills”.

“Even if we didn’t necessarily want to acquire them – skills are always a good thing.”

“It’s also really important to give us a lesson on how things are for other people,” says Dr Rosewarne. “Most people take their mobility for granted and I think this is a nice reminder that there are people who don’t have the freedom to move around.”

While it’s important to acknowledge this is a difficult time – we will get through this with a whole new level of appreciation for our social lives.

“I think this is good lesson in gratitude, but also in learning different ways to experience the world.”