The need for physical distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many of us spending more time in isolation. You may have found the separation from family and friends, as well as a change to your day-to-day habits, has caused you to experience loneliness and seclusion.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome feelings of isolation, both during this period and after restrictions ease.
Connect with others
Our social relationships contribute to our self-esteem, self-worth and purpose, explains psychologist Dr Jo Lukins, who delivers resilience training, transition support and high-performance education to the Australian Army’s 3rd Brigade in Townsville. Dr Lukins, who has also led programs for Forces Command and the RAAF says “humans are essentially social creatures – we are tribal and we seek connection with others”. “When we are apart from those who are important to us, we can feel rejected, unsure and emotionally isolated.”
“If you notice you are withdrawing from your usual social activities, connections and conversations, it might be time to put actions in place to reconnect,” she says.
Depending on the restrictions currently in place, you may have to be creative in finding ways to connect. Call or video chat with a friend. Listening to talkback radio or a podcast is another way to feel less alone if you can’t physically be with others.
Check in on yourself
While connecting with others is crucial, it’s also important to check in on your own wellbeing. “Take some time regularly to consider how you are managing,” says Dr Lukins. “What emotions are you feeling? Do you feel okay? What are you looking forward to? What is going well?”
Writing a journal can be helpful in highlighting what’s going on for you or setting aside a few minutes a day to focus inwards. “It’s important we pay attention, as we can’t do anything about it if we don’t notice how we are faring,” says Dr Lukins.
Embrace the new normal
As we’ve had to change our behaviours in recent months, it’s natural that we might be hesitant to re-emerge into the world. “We may find it takes time to get used to being back with larger groups of people when these new restrictions ease,” says Dr Lukins.
Rather than rushing back into life as you knew it, take the time to think about your relationships and whether you want to make any changes in your social settings. For some people, that might be actively making more of an effort to connect with others, while others might want to focus on a core group of friends, while going out less.
If you’re worried that your feelings of isolation won’t fade once restrictions ease, reach out for help.
“Anytime someone is sufficiently concerned about their reactions or is feeling overwhelmed, this is a good time to seek out support,” says Dr Lukins. “Start with a conversation with your GP, or there are lots of fantastic telehealth counselling options available now.”
Please contact your GP or a crisis support service such as Lifeline (13 11 14) should you have concerns about your mental health or that of a loved one.