Lockdowns make people lonely. Here are 3 steps we can take now to help each other


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Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of TechnologyMillions of Australians are currently living under lockdowns in an effort to curb the rapid spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.

While lockdowns and other social distancing restrictions are important strategies to protect Australians’ physical health during the pandemic, it’s no secret they take a significant toll on mental health.

As well as financial stressors, including the loss of work, prolonged or frequent lockdowns can affect mental health by disrupting social routines. This puts people in lockdown at risk of loneliness.

So with lockdowns and social restrictions likely to be a part of life in Australia until a significant majority of us are fully vaccinated, it’s timely to think about what we can do to look out for people who may be vulnerable.

Lockdowns and loneliness

Lockdowns reduce our opportunities to connect with loved ones in person, and slow our ability to develop or foster new connections. Many families are also divided across borders — both domestic and international — with little certainty as to when they’ll be able to reunite.

We collected data from the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, examining loneliness levels in relation to the severity of social restrictions during the first six months of the pandemic.

Although our research is yet to be published, we found, somewhat unsurprisingly, that as social restrictions eased, loneliness levels also dropped significantly.

A man rests his head on his hands.
During lockdowns, the social contact we can have with others face-to-face is limited. This can take a toll on well-being.
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While it’s normal to feel lonely from time to time, some people are at higher risk of problematic levels of loneliness. We found being aged 18-25, being unemployed, and living alone were among the factors that predicted higher levels of loneliness.

Why should we care about loneliness?

For some people, experiencing persistent or distressing levels of loneliness can lead to poor health. In part, this may be because loneliness creates a physiological stress response.

Researchers from Denmark found loneliness increases a person’s chance of developing heart disease by 20%, and type 2 diabetes by 90% within a five-year period.

While people with a mental health disorder are more likely to report being lonely, it goes the other way too. Loneliness predicts more severe depression, social anxiety and paranoia.




Read more:
It’s hard to admit we’re lonely, even to ourselves. Here are the signs and how to manage them


There’s increasing recognition that feeling lonely also costs businesses. Loneliness has been estimated to set UK employers back up to £2.53 billion per year, owing to factors such as higher staff turnover, lower job satisfaction and lower productivity.

The adoption of remote working practices beyond the immediate crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic will further limit our ability to form or keep those small, informal but important moments to connect with colleagues.

How can we help those who may be at risk?

Loneliness is a personal and distressing experience that can be complex to resolve.

But for people who are lonely, feeling meaningfully connected to others can help. Here are four steps we can all take to help people who may be experiencing loneliness.

1. Listen out

People who are lonely may not readily or explicitly complain about their loneliness due to fear of judgement or stigma.

If they do reach out, a person who is lonely may ask to connect in an indirect or non-urgent way. This can be because people who feel lonely don’t want to burden others. For example, “when you have time, let’s catch up” may appear non-urgent, but it’s important to respond to these requests.

A hand holds up a smartphone on a video call.
We’re lucky to have digital means to communicate during the pandemic. But loneliness remains a significant health problem.
Ben Collins/Unsplash

2. Check in and share

Living in a lockdown is stressful, but it’s a shared experience. It presents us with opportunities to show kindness to people we may not know well. A simple “hello” can go a long way for many.

Asking others how they are can become part and parcel of our conversations with each other. Indeed, checking in — even with people who we may not know well, such as co-workers, neighbours, or the barista at the local coffee shop — is becoming the new normal.

Where appropriate, more often than not, sharing our lockdown experiences can create an opportunity to bond with and support each other.




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Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help


3. Ask the right questions

If someone shares they are feeling lonely, asking “is there anything I can do to help?” facilitates the conversation and lets others know you are there without judgement.

Don’t assume what works for you will work for someone else. Ask them “what do you think could help you?”

Being proactive

Since the pandemic began, many Australians have discovered different ways to keep in touch beyond the zoom call. These include things like writing stories and letters, leaving care packages, and exercising with a friend (while socially distanced and with masks).

Millions of Australians are living with multiple sources of stress right now. But it’s not impossible to show emotional support and care to people around us while still sticking to social distancing rules.

Employers must also take proactive steps to keep workers engaged with each other and to the organisation.




Read more:
Lonely in lockdown? You’re not alone. 1 in 2 Australians feel more lonely since coronavirus


So long as lockdowns are used as a strategy against the virus, there will be a social cost to our well-being. But that only makes it more important than ever that we make the effort to stay meaningfully connected to others.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The good, the bad and the lonely: how coronavirus changed Australian family life




Megan Carroll, Australian Institute of Family Studies; Diana Warren, Australian Institute of Family Studies; Jennifer A. Baxter, Australian Institute of Family Studies, and Kelly Hand, Australian Institute of Family Studies

COVID-19 has brought about big changes in Australia and across the world, with much attention focused on the way governments are responding to the health and economic challenges of the pandemic.

Interactions with family and friends have been the focus of many of the public health restrictions and have been identified as a source of spreading infection. Less attention has been paid to the role families and social networks have played in supporting each other through a difficult year.

Findings from the first wave of the Families in Australia Survey have highlighted that Australians still turn to family for support in times of crisis.

The survey of 7,306 respondents, by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, ran from May 1 to June 9 2020, when most Australians were subject to multiple restrictions due to COVID. These forced them to spend more time with some family members, while separating them from others. The survey aimed to provide a better understanding of how Australian families adjusted during the pandemic.




Read more:
Lonely in lockdown? You’re not alone. 1 in 2 Australians feel more lonely since coronavirus


New ways to connect

While limitations were placed on how families could meet in person, most people talked to family living elsewhere at least as often as before. A good proportion (44%) talked to them more than before. We heard stories of people connecting through new technologies, such as using video calls to share meals, or through more traditional means of sending care packages through the post.

In addition to social connections, family members living elsewhere were the primary source of help
for those who needed extra assistance. This help included practical assistance with groceries, errands and other care-giving, as well as financial and emotional support.

Experiences of connection to family living elsewhere were mixed, with similar numbers reporting feeling more and less connected. For many, sharing lockdown led to an increased level of connection with those in their immediate household.

Changes to family life

This increase in connection is likely driven, at least in part, by spending more time together. When asked about time spent with children, many parents reported an increase in quality time, playing games, reading to their children and having meaningful conversations.

However, it wasn’t all quality time. Many families had to negotiate shared work spaces and juggling childcare while working from home.

Financial support from families

The financial impacts of the pandemic have hit some families hard. One in six survey respondents said their family income had reduced a little. Almost a quarter said it had been reduced a lot.

For many families, this resulted in cutting back on non-essential expenses such as take-away meals. While some dipped into savings to make up the shortfall, others reported cutting down on essential expenses like groceries or pausing rent and mortgage payments. More people asked for financial support from family and friends than from welfare or community organisations.

Among those who had not experienced a drop in income, many reported saving money, as they spent less on things like childcare and petrol. While some said they made changes to their savings and investments, financial actions taken as a result of COVID-19 were commonly aimed at helping family members who had a drop in income, and supporting their community by spending more at local businesses.

When asked about their level of concern about their family’s current financial situation, three out of five respondents said they were at least “a little concerned”. Those whose income had reduced as a result of COVID-19 expressed higher levels of concern. Over 70% of respondents said they were at least a little concerned about their family’s future financial situation.

Comments by respondents show their concern was not just for themselves and their partners. They included the financial situation of adult children living at home and family members living elsewhere. While some felt lucky not to have been affected financially by the pandemic, others worried about those who lost their jobs or income, businesses or investments.




Read more:
We asked over 2,000 Australian parents how they fared in lockdown. Here’s what they said


Towards COVID normal

With Australia now negotiating “COVID normal”, we need to know more about what types of supports families need, and how to support those who may not have a family they can rely on.

The second wave of the Families in Australia Survey aims to do just that.

If you would like to share your experiences, please go to towardscovidnormal.com.auThe Conversation

Megan Carroll, Senior research officer, Australian Institute of Family Studies; Diana Warren, Research Fellow, Australian Institute of Family Studies; Jennifer A. Baxter, Senior research fellow, Australian Institute of Family Studies, and Kelly Hand, Deputy Director, Research, Australian Institute of Family Studies

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s hard to admit we’re lonely, even to ourselves. Here are the signs and how to manage them



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Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to loneliness in Australia.

This is especially so as Melburnians entered the strictest lockdown to date. Meanwhile, the rest of Australia braces for the possibility of a second wave and people are adapting to new habits and restrictions.

This has disrupted our social routines, and in many cases has reduced the number of people we interact with. This makes it harder to maintain meaningful social connections, resulting in loneliness.

But sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you’re feeling lonely or feeling something else. And many people are reluctant to admit they’re lonely for fear it makes them seem deficient in some way.

So what are the signs of loneliness? And how can we recognise these signs and therefore manage them?




Read more:
Lonely in lockdown? You’re not alone. 1 in 2 Australians feel more lonely since coronavirus


I’m not lonely…

Loneliness is complex. Some people can feel lonely despite having extensive networks, while some others might not, even if they live alone. There are many factors behind this, and the COVID-19 pandemic is another significant one.

Social restrictions during the pandemic mean we are more reliant on existing relationships. People who enjoy brief but multiple social interactions in their daily routine, or simply like being around others, may now find it harder to keep loneliness at bay.

When researchers ask people whether they’re lonely, some deny or reject the idea. But when asked in a different way, like whether they want some company, some of those same people would say yes, they would like company.

This is because there’s a social stigma to loneliness. We often think it is somehow our own fault or that it reveals some personal shortcoming. Loneliness evokes a particularly vulnerable image, of someone living alone with no one around them.

One survey also found men are less likely to say they’re feeling lonely, although this research was published before COVID-19.

“Max”, aged 21, was interviewed as part of an upcoming project being done by Ending Loneliness Together, an organisation that addresses loneliness in Australia. He has experienced periods of loneliness, and said:

I think specifically for men, [they] lock themselves away because they don’t know how to verbalise that feeling. It demonstrates the real disparity in the way in which we expect our men to engage in their emotions.

Man lying in bed looking lonely
Men are less likely than women to say they’re feeling lonely, even if they are.
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Because of these misconceptions, many who are lonely will overlook their own emerging signs of loneliness in the hope these feelings will go away once they are around people. But seemingly logical solutions like making more friends or knowing more people may not help, if you perceive these relationships to be unhelpful, neutral, ambivalent, or even sources of conflict.

Nevertheless, ignoring growing levels of loneliness will increase our risk of developing poorer physical and mental health.

Signs you might be lonely

Loneliness is a normal signal to connect with others, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to rid yourself completely of lonely feelings during this time. Instead, we should aim to manage our loneliness so it doesn’t become severely distressing.

More often than not, we might not be willing to admit even to ourselves that we’re feeling lonely. The COVID-19 pandemic may be a trigger, but there is a range of factors that can lead you to feel lonely, sometimes without even realising.

This can make it hard to be consciously aware of any loneliness you might be experiencing, particularly if the pandemic has left you feeling busier and more stressed than usual.

Here are some signs you might be feeling lonely. To a certain extent, you feel that:

  • you are not “in tune” with others

  • your relationships are not meaningful

  • you do not belong

  • you do not have a group of friends

  • no one understands you

  • you do not have shared interests with others

  • there is no one you can turn to.

It’s important to remember, though, not all of these may relate to you and you may experience these in varying degrees.

Woman staring at computer screen
We’re often hesitant to admit we’re lonely because of the stigma associated with loneliness — that it’s somehow our fault or we’re deficient in some way.
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How to manage your loneliness

Because of the complexity of loneliness, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. To find the best solution for you, reflect on your personal preferences, previous experience, and your capacity to reach out to your social networks.

During the pandemic, the solutions you select will differ depending on the social restrictions in your state. Even under the strictest social restrictions (in Melbourne), some of us have been fortunate to have a friend or a neighbour in our area with whom we can walk and chat while still adhering to public health directives. For others, getting in touch via Zoom or a phone call may be the only option.

For those who can, establishing shared goals or activities with friends, family, or colleagues can be helpful. These provide positive social support and facilitate a sense of achievement when meeting those goals. This might include setting self-care goals such as exercise, meditation, cooking, hobbies, or learning new skills. But equally, it’s not a sign of “failure” if you don’t do these things.

Friendships are good for our health, but making a new friend can be taxing for some people.

Instead, perhaps think about how you can work on existing relationships. Pick what feels right and is feasible for you. If improving the ties you already hold is all you can do, focus on this. And if you are reaching out to people outside your familiar network, it doesn’t have to be confronting. A simple hello is a small step towards more meaningful interactions in the future.

Social restrictions including isolation, quarantining, and social distancing are public health measures we’ve become acquainted with since the onset of COVID-19. Although these restrictions modify our social interactions physically, they don’t mean we can’t stay meaningfully connected to each other. This is why many prefer the alternative term “physical distancing”.

We can, and should, stay socially connected while being physically apart.




Read more:
Loneliness is a social cancer, every bit as alarming as cancer itself


The Conversation


Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Lonely in lockdown? You’re not alone. 1 in 2 Australians feel more lonely since coronavirus




Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

Many Victorians are now well into their second round of stage 3 lockdown, under which there are only a handful of reasons one can leave home — and for many who live alone, it’s starting to grate.

Under the rules, partnered people are allowed to visit a boyfriend or girlfriend without risking an infringement notice, which may feel unfair to single people.

That’s understandable. Humans are innately social, we all need human connection and we’re used to routine. When we are deprived of something — even for a short time — the need sometimes becomes stronger. (And while I’m talking mostly about the need for human connection, many who live alone are less able than usual to get help from family or friends with practical essentials, such as getting food, care or medicines).

If you live alone — or with others to whom you are not particularly close — it’s important to find different and creative ways to connect with people while still reducing the immediate COVID-19 risk.

And for all of us, it’s time to redouble our efforts to check up on family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues.




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Social distancing can make you lonely. Here’s how to stay connected when you’re in lockdown


Lockdown can make us lonely

Victoria Police Deputy Police Commissioner Rick Nugent told reporters that since stage 3 stay at home restrictions resumed for much of Melbourne last Wednesday, many vehicles had been stopped and infringement notices issued, adding:

The most common reason is going to visit family or friends or associates and overnight stays.

We don’t know how many, if any, of those were single people but it shows the risks many people are willing to take to see family and friends.

We are partway through a yet-to-be published study aimed at understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on relationships, health, and quality of life. We have surveyed 2,666 people at the first wave around the world.

The first wave data found that 1 in 2 Australians report feeling more lonely since COVID-19. Living with family during COVID-19 seems to be most beneficial for protecting against feelings of loneliness, depression, social anxiety and stress. Young adults aged 18-25 also reported the highest levels of loneliness compared with other age groups. We know from previous research that young people have high social needs.

And it’s not just people living alone. People who live with housemates (or those unrelated to them) may also be at greater risk of loneliness. People also have complex social needs. Some have said, “I love my husband and my kids but I’m desperate to see my friends”.

These findings are preliminary and work is ongoing. These early results are from when we first went into lockdown — before many people had lost jobs and networks and before the shine had worn off Zoom social catch-ups.

Data from the second and third round of surveys will tell us more about how things have changed.

Making your interaction count

So, what can we do?

There are many ways to have safe social interactions within the recommended guidelines. It might help to remind yourself often that it’s not forever. There will be lots of time we can have together when the immediate threat has passed. And right now, the immediate risk to public health is huge.

And it doesn’t have to be just about Zoom catch-ups. Try going for a walk while talking on the phone with a friend, making something for a friend, writing a letter to a relative, or exercising with a friend while observing physical distancing.

There are very few benefits to this crisis but it may help us rediscover flexible ways to relate to others. Maybe we can think more clearly about cherishing these moments of interaction. You might think: “now I can’t see my nanna, I feel the need more than ever to connect with her. I can give her more regular phone calls or send a letter to make her feel valued, as opposed to going through the motions of a more routine visit.”

It’s not just having a conversation but rather having meaningful interactions.

Insights from social and behavioural science tell us that comprehensive public health responses work best when leaders, public health experts and policy makers emphasise that cooperating is the right thing to do, that other people are already cooperating and appeal to our shared sense of identity.

Understanding how people perceive the COVID-19 threat, their social context (including cultural norms), the way these messages are communicated to the public, and individual and collective interests are all crucial.

While most people try their best to follow the guidelines, simplistic messaging such as “don’t do this” is often ineffective.

Remind yourself the current restrictions won’t last forever.
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Nuance is hard

I am sympathetic to people who feel disadvantaged by rules that lack the nuance to account for their social needs.

But blanket guidelines are probably the most direct way to get the key clear messages across about what we can do to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Nobody wants lockdown to be toughened further or extended longer.

It’s a real challenge for the government to manage a society made up of different types of communities with varying social needs and expectations. And clearly there isn’t a one-size-fits all guideline that can account for society’s diversity. Allowing many nuanced conditions makes it harder to manage and can also introduce confusion. And it is important to promote a sense of community during this public health crisis, as people who feel socially excluded are less likely to be cooperative.

The top priority is managing this public health crisis and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Social health is extremely important but it can be managed even while social restrictions are in place.

I think if people are feeling a bit lonely, even if they are bunkering down with a housemate or a partner but missing their friends, it’s important to know it’s OK to feel that way.

But humans are astonishingly flexible and resilient through times of crisis. We can find creative ways to connect with people while still reducing the immediate risk.




Read more:
1 in 3 young adults is lonely – and it affects their mental health



Correction: An earlier version of this story attributed a quote to Victoria Police Police Commissioner Shane Patton. It should have been attributed to Victoria Police Deputy Police Commissioner Rick Nugent. The error was made by an editor in the editing process.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reconnecting after coronavirus – 4 key ways cities can counter anxiety and loneliness



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Roger Patulny, University of Wollongong; Jordan McKenzie, University of Wollongong; Marlee Bower, University of Sydney, and Rebecca E. Olson, The University of Queensland

COVID-19 has forced us into social distancing, isolation and quarantine. These conditions are likely fostering widespread anxiety and loneliness in our cities. However, they’ve also made the need for socially connected, vibrant public spaces obvious to all.

We offer four strategies for rebuilding social connectivity and emotional well-being in our cities, once restrictions are lifted.




Read more:
Is your mental health deteriorating during the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what to look out for


Changing the emotional climate

Enforced distancing measures are probably changing not just our work, travel and family routines, but how we interact with others and how we feel about ourselves and our communities.

Loneliness is bad for your health and is likely on the rise. There is no guarantee the pandemic-driven shift towards more digital communication will compensate for the lost emotional closeness of in-person contact.

As loneliness becomes more common, it creates a change in what sociologists refer to as “emotional climates” – the collective feelings experienced and shared by most people within a given city or society. A “mass emotional event” like COVID-19 can dramatically alter the emotional climate. It’s so disruptive that it leads to a permanent change in everyday emotional states, expressions and social interactions.




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Designing cities to counter loneliness? Let’s explore the possibilities


COVID-19 has strong potential to make us not only lonelier, but more distrustful, fearful, anxious and angry. The emerging evidence of this includes: panic buying of goods; abuse and stigma of “risky” carers such as health workers; and potential increases in domestic violence and animal cruelty.

It has even been suggested we are collectively processing and moving through the stages of mass grief.

It’s important to remedy negative emotional climates with strategies to reconnect communities, allay fears and better prepare us for any future shutdowns. We can even aim to promote positive emotional climates and “kindness pandemics”.

4 ways to build better communities

COVID-19 is an opportunity to build on what we know and to learn from this situation. It’s possible to promote social and emotional well-being. We suggest four key approaches for building better communities that do this.

1) Design walkable, social, flexible public spaces

Recent work-from-home practices have reduced car traffic by up to 50% on arterial roads. However, they have also prompted cabin fever and a craving for exercise and social contact.

Cities and suburbs should be redesigned to support physical and social activity and mental health. We need a greater emphasis on cycle- and pedestrian-friendly spaces. There should also be renewed focus on building walkable town centres and neighbourhood high streets, rather than continuing with car-dependent suburban sprawl.

Recent examples of innovative and flexible use of space by business are inspiring. Whether cafes become corner stores, pubs sell takeaway cocktails, parks become gyms, or car parks become pop-up businesses, flexible use of space should become commonplace.




Read more:
Coronavirus reminds us how liveable neighbourhoods matter for our well-being


2) Integrate public and online spaces

Our new online communication skills can help us develop a better physical-digital interface for bringing people together.

Video conferencing is flexible and can enable long-distance connection and “work from home” hubs. However, social media platforms, such as Facebook, Meetup, WhatsApp or art-based apps like Somebody, are useful for organising physical meetings too. These can can help with community volunteering, socialising, or simply sharing guerrilla-garden herbs for local cooking.

A better physical-digital interface could help new jobs flourish in “interactive” creative industries that virtually connect isolated individuals. New art spaces could be established, putting connective digital infrastructure, such as audio-visual platforms, within physical spaces to help face-to-face and virtual audiences interact.




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Many people feel lonely in the city, but perhaps ‘third places’ can help with that


3) Provide quality housing

COVID-19 has exposed the vast variability in the quality of Australian housing. Many homes lack the space to accommodate work, study, relaxation, exercise and socialising, or spaces where people can seek privacy and quiet. Housing also varies in its access to fresh air, light, temperature control and healthy green spaces.

Designing future homes with these needs and features in mind should be a priority.

4) Build with different needs and stigma in mind

The impacts of COVID-19 will not be felt equally. Post-COVID-19 cities should take this into account.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness. It has also greatly increased the risk of loneliness for the one in four Australians who live alone. This applies particularly to older Australians with a mobility impairment.

The pandemic has also highlighted the safety risks of centralised living arrangements like nursing homes.

We must prioritise the creation of housing that reduces isolation and promotes social connection.




Read more:
Apartment life for families means living at close quarters, but often feeling isolated too


Recent positive public conversations on social media and within the arts community on previously stigmatised emotions like loneliness and anxiety will help keep these concerns on the public agenda.The Conversation

Roger Patulny, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wollongong; Jordan McKenzie, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Wollongong; Marlee Bower, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, University of Sydney, and Rebecca E. Olson, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Social distancing can make you lonely. Here’s how to stay connected when you’re in lockdown


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Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology and Johanna Badcock, University of Western Australia

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is a challenge for everyone.

We know positive social support can improve our capacity to cope with stress. But right now we’re being asked to keep our distance from others to minimise the spread of the virus.

Many people are facing periods of enforced isolation if they are believed to have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has.

Even those of us who appear to be healthy are being directed to practise social distancing, a range of strategies designed to slow the spread of a disease and protect vulnerable groups from becoming infected.

Among other things, this means when we’re around others, we shouldn’t get too close, and should avoid things like kissing and shaking hands.

This advice has seen the cancellation of large events of more than 500 people, while smaller groups and organisations have also moved to cancel events and regular activities. Many workplaces with the capacity to do so have asked their staff to work from home.




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Coronavirus: why are we cancelling large gatherings? And what other ‘social distancing’ options are left?


While it’s crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19, practising social distancing will result in fewer face-to-face social interactions, potentially increasing the risk of loneliness.

Humans are social beings

Social distancing and self-isolation will be a challenge for many people. This is because humans are innately social. From history to the modern day we’ve lived in groups – in villages, communities and family units.

While we know social isolation has a negative impact on health, we don’t really know much about what the effects of compulsory (and possibly prolonged) social isolation could be.

But we expect it could increase the risk of loneliness in the community. Loneliness is the feeling of being socially isolated.

If you have a smartphone, why not video call instead of just speaking on the phone.
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Recent reports have indicated loneliness is already a significant issue for Australians, including young people.

Loneliness and social isolation are associated with a similar increased risk of earlier death: 26% and 29% respectively compared to someone who is not lonely or socially isolated.




Read more:
1 in 3 young adults is lonely – and it affects their mental health


People who are socially vulnerable, such as older people, are likely to struggle more through this uncertain period.

If older adults are forced to self-isolate, we don’t have contingency plans to help those who are lonely and/or have complex health problems.

While we can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions, we need to be flexible and think creatively in these circumstances.

Can we equip older people with technology if they don’t already have access, or teach them how to use their devices if they are unsure? For those still living at home, can we engage a neighbour to check in on them? Can we show our support by finding the time to write letters, notes, or make phone calls?




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Can I take the dog for a walk? Can I put the kids to bed? What you should and shouldn’t do if you’re in coronavirus self-isolation


Supporting each other

Research shows a period of uncertainty and a lack of control in our daily lives can lead to increased anxiety.

In times like this, it’s essential we support one another and show compassion to those who need it. This is a shared experience that’s stressful for everyone – and we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for.

Fortunately, positive social support can improve our resilience for coping with stress. So use the phone and if you can, and gather a group of people to stay in touch with.

Older people may be more susceptible to feeling lonely if they’re forced to isolate.
Shutterstock

Further, positive social interactions – even remotely – can help reduce loneliness. Showing genuine interest in others, sharing positive news, and bringing up old memories can enhance our relationships.

Staying connected

Here are some tips to remain connected when you’re practising social distancing or in quarantine:

  1. think about how you can interact with others without putting your health (or theirs) at risk. Can you speak to your neighbours from over a fence or across balconies? We’ve seen this in Italy

  2. if you have access to it, use technology to stay in touch. If you have a smartphone, use the video capabilities (seeing someone’s facial expressions can help increase connection)

  3. check in with your friends, family, and neighbours regularly. Wherever you can, assist people in your life who may be more vulnerable (for example, those with no access to the internet or who cannot easily use the internet to shop online)

  4. spend the time connecting with the people you are living with. If you are in a lockdown situation, use this time to improve your existing relationships

  5. manage your stress levels. Exercise, meditate, and keep to a daily routine as much as you can

  6. it’s not just family and friends who require support, but others in your community. Showing kindness to others not only helps them but can also increase your sense of purpose and value, improving your own well-being.




Read more:
Coronavirus is stressful. Here are some ways to cope with the anxiety


So get thinking, take considered action, and be creative to see how you can help to minimise not only the spread of COVID-19, but its social and psychological effects too.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology and Johanna Badcock, Adjunct Professor, School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Does social media make us more or less lonely? Depends on how you use it



Research by Relationships Australia released in 2018 revealed one in six Australians experience emotional loneliness, which means they lack meaningful relationships in their lives.
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Roger Patulny, University of Wollongong

Humans are more connected to each other than ever, thanks to smartphones, the web and social media. At the same time, loneliness is a huge and growing social problem.

Why is this so? Research shows social media use alone can’t cure loneliness – but it can be a tool to build and strengthen our genuine connections with others, which are important for a happy life.

To understand why this is the case, we need to understand more about loneliness, its harmful impact, and what this has to do with social media.

The scale of loneliness

There is great concern about a loneliness epidemic in Australia. In the 2018 Australian Loneliness Report, more than one-quarter of survey participants reported feeling lonely three or more days a week.

Studies have linked loneliness to early mortality, increased cardio-vascular disease, poor mental health and depression, suicide, and increased social and health care costs.

But how does this relate to social media?




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More and more Australians are becoming physically isolated. My previous research demonstrated that face-to-face contact in Australia is declining, and this is accompanied by a rise in technology-enabled communication.

Enter social media, which for many is serving as a replacement for physical connection. Social media influences nearly all relationships now.

Navigating the physical/digital interface

While there is evidence of more loneliness among heavy social media users, there is also evidence suggesting social media use decreases loneliness among highly social people.

How do we explain such apparent contradictions, wherein both the most and least lonely people are heavy social media users?

Research reveals social media is most effective in tackling loneliness when it is used to enhance existing relationships, or forge new meaningful connections. On the other hand, it is counterproductive if used as a substitute for real-life social interaction.

Thus, it is not social media itself, but the way we integrate it into our existing lives which impacts loneliness.

I wandered lonely in the cloud

While social media’s implications for loneliness can be positive, they can also be contradictory.

Tech-industry enthusiasts highlight social media’s benefits, such as how it offers easy, algorithimically-enhanced connection to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time. But this argument often ignores the quality of these connections.

Psychologist Robert Weiss makes a distinction between “social loneliness” – a lack of contact with others – and “emotional loneliness”, which can persist regardless of how many “connections” you have, especially if they do not provide support, affirm identity and create feelings of belonging.




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Without close, physical connections, shallow virtual friendships can do little to alleviate emotional loneliness. And there is reason to think many online connections are just that.

Evidence from past literature has associated heavy social media use with increased loneliness. This may be because online spaces are often oriented to performance, status, exaggerating favourable qualities (such as by posting only “happy” content and likes), and frowning on expressions of loneliness.

On the other hand, social media plays a vital role in helping us stay connected with friends over long distances, and organise catch-ups. Video conferencing can facilitate “meetings” when physically meeting is impractical.

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram can be used to engage with new people who may turn into real friends later on. Similarly, sites like Meetup can help us find local groups of people whose interests and activities align with our own.

And while face-to-face contact remains the best way to help reduce loneliness, help can sometimes be found through online support groups.

Why so lonely?

There are several likely reasons for our great physical disconnection and loneliness.

We’ve replaced the 20th century idea of stable, permanent careers spanning decades with flexible employment and gig work. This prompts regular relocation for work, which results in disconnection from family and friends.

The way we build McMansions (large, multi-room houses) and sprawl our suburbs is often antisocial, with little thought given to developing vibrant, walkable social centres.




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Single-person households are expected to increase from about 2.1 million in 2011 to almost 3.4 million in 2036.

All of the above means the way we manage loneliness is changing.

In our book, my co-authors and I argue people manage their feelings differently than in the past. Living far from friends and family, isolated individuals often deal with negative emotions alone, through therapy, or through connecting online with whoever may be available.

Social media use is pervasive, so the least we can do is bend it in a way that facilitates our real-life need to belong.

It is a tool that should work for us, not the other way around. Perhaps, once we achieve this, we can expect to live in a world that is a bit less lonely.The Conversation

Roger Patulny, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

1 in 3 young adults is lonely – and it affects their mental health



One in three 18 to 25 year olds reported feeling lonely three or more times in the past week.
Todd Diemer

Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

More than one in three young adults aged 18 to 25 reported problematic levels of loneliness, according to a new report from Swinburne University and VicHealth.

We surveyed 1,520 Victorians aged 12 to 25, and examined their experience of loneliness. We also asked about their symptoms of depression and social anxiety.

Overall, one in four young people (aged 12 to 25) reported feeling lonely for three or more days within the last week.




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Among 18 to 25 year olds, one in three (35%) reported feeling lonely three or more times a week. We also found that higher levels of loneliness increases a young adult’s risk of developing depression by 12% and social anxiety by 10%.

Adolescents aged 12 to 17 reported better outcomes, with one in seven (13%) feeling lonely three or more times a week. Participants in this age group were also less likely to report symptoms of depression and social anxiety than the 18 to 25 year olds.

Young adulthood can be a lonely time

Anyone can experience loneliness and at any point in life but it’s often triggered by significant life events – both positive (such as new parenthood or a new job) and negative (bereavement, separation or health problems).

Young adults are managing new challenges such as moving away from home and starting university, TAFE or work. Almost half (48%) of the young adults in our survey lived away from family and caregivers. Almost 77% were also engaged in some sort of work.




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Young people at high school may be buffered from loneliness because they’re surrounded by peers, many of whom they have known for years. But once they leave the safety of these familiar environments, they are likely to have to put in extra effort to forge new ties. They may also feel more disconnected from the existing friends they have.

During this transition to independence, young adults may find themselves with evolving social networks, including interactions with colleagues and peers of different ages. Learning to navigate these different relationships requires adjustment, and a fair bit of trial and error.

Is social media use to blame?

Social media has its positives and negatives.
freestocks.org

The reliance on social media to communicate is often thought to cause loneliness.

No studies I’m aware of have examined the cause-effect between loneliness and social media use.

There is some evidence that those who are lonely are more likely to use the internet for social interactions and spend less time in real life interactions. But it’s unclear whether social media use causes more loneliness.

While social media can be used to replace offline relationships with online ones, it can also be used to both enhance existing relationships and offer new social opportunities.

Further, a recent study found that the relationship between social media use and psychological distress was weak.

Is loneliness a cause or effect of mental ill health?

Loneliness is bad for our physical and mental health. Over a six-month period, people who are lonely are more likely to experience higher rates of depression, social anxiety and paranoia. Being socially anxious can also lead to more loneliness at a later time.

The solution isn’t as simple as joining a group or trying harder to make friends, especially if one also already feels anxious about being with people.

While lonely people are motivated to connect with others they are also more likely to experience social interactions as stressful. Brain imaging studies show lonely people are less rewarded by social interactions and are more attuned to distress of others than less lonely counterparts.

Making friends can be a stressful experience.
Andrew Neel

When lonely people do socialise, they are more likely to engage in self-defeating actions, such as being less cooperative, and show more negative emotions and body language. This is done in an (often unconscious) attempt to disengage and protect themselves from rejection.

Lonely people are also more likely to find reasons people cannot be trusted or do not live up to particular social expectations, and to believe others evaluate them more negatively than they actually do.

What can we do about it?

One way to address these invisible forces is to help young people think in more helpful ways about friendship, and to understand how they can influence others through their emotions and behaviours.




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Parents, educators and counsellors can play a role in educating children and young people about the dynamics of evolving friendships. This might involve helping the young person to evaluate their own behaviours and thought patterns, understand how they play an active role in building relationships, and to support them to interact differently.

More specific strategies could include:

  • challenging unhelpful thinking or negative views about others
  • helping young people identify their strengths and learn how they’re important in forging strong, meaningful relationships. If the young person identifies humour as a strength, for instance, this might involve discussing how they can use their humour to establish rapport with others.

Educational programs can do more to address the social health of young people and these discussions can be integrated into health education classes.

Additionally, because young people are already frequent and competent users of technology, carefully crafted digital tools could be developed to target loneliness.

These tools could help young people learn skills to develop and maintain meaningful relationships. And because lonely people are more likely to avoid others, digital tools could also be used as one way to help young people build social confidence and practise new skills within a safe space.




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A cornerstone of any solution, however, is to normalise feelings of loneliness, so feeling lonely is seen not as a weakness but rather as an innate human need to connect. Loneliness is likely to negatively impact on health when it is ignored, or not properly addressed, allowing the distress to persist.

Identifying and normalising feelings of loneliness can help lonely people consider different avenues for action.

We don’t yet know the lifelong impact of loneliness on today’s young people, so it’s important we take action now, by increasing awareness and giving young people the tools to develop and maintain meaningful social relationships.

Michelle Lim, the author of this piece, is available for a Q+A on Tuesday the 1st October from 3pm-4pm AEST to take questions on this topic. Please post your questions in the comments below.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I really have thought this can’t go on’: loneliness looms for rising numbers of older private renters



People living in private rental housing were much more likely than social housing residents to say they felt lonely.
Dundanim/Shutterstock

Alan Morris, University of Technology Sydney and Andrea Verdasco, University of Technology Sydney

Loneliness is increasingly recognised worldwide as a critical social issue and one of the major health hazards of our time. Our research shows older private renters are at high risk of loneliness and anxiety. This is a growing concern as more Australians are renting housing later in life. By contrast, only a small proportion of the social housing tenants we interviewed said they were lonely.

The links between housing arrangements and loneliness could have profound implications for our health. As former US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy said:

The reduction in life span [for people experiencing loneliness] is similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity … Look even deeper, and you’ll find loneliness is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.




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What causes loneliness?

The causes of loneliness are multifaceted and complex. The number of people living alone in Australia is clearly a factor. In 2016, just under one in four households (24.4%) were single-person households. That’s up from one in five in 1991.




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Research suggests low-income individuals are more likely to experience loneliness. So, too, are people who have a serious mental or physical health condition or have had a serious disruptive event (financial or job loss, illness or injury, or relationship breakdown) in the last couple of years.

The impact of housing tenure on loneliness has received little attention. While recognising that there are no definite associations, we interviewed about 80 older (65-plus) private renters and social housing tenants who depended on the Age Pension for their income. These in-depth interviews indicated that their housing tenure was a critical factor in their risk of experiencing loneliness.




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Many older private renters are lonely

Many older private renters have little disposal income, because the cost of housing uses up much of their income. They also live with the constant possibility that they may be asked to vacate their accommodation. Their limited budgets mean they often end up living in a poorly located property. These features, individually or in combination, create fertile ground for anxiety and loneliness.

Their dire financial situation was often an obstacle to social activities. One interviewee told of how she had to choose between food or breaking her isolation by using public transport.

Well, you sort of think what you can do with $2.50. That’s a loaf of bread type of thing. – Beverley *

A 72-year-old woman living by herself said she could not afford the outings organised by her church.

There’s quite an active social club at the church for over-55s but I can’t go to any of those … Sometimes I think it would be nice to go on something that appeals to me, yes. And they might have an afternoon at somebody’s home and you’re asked to bring a plate [of food]. You see, I couldn’t afford to do that.

Peter, 67 and divorced, had left the workforce prematurely due to ill-health.

I’ve become very isolated. I used to, before I had the hip operation, I used to play tennis and I loved to play tennis … but I really can’t afford it. I’ve found a few clubs that I could go and play in. I’d like to get back to it, but they say, ‘Ah, the fees are this and you pay it annually,’ and I can’t come up with $150 or $200 or whatever.

Lack of money and insecure tenure were sources of enormous distress and anxiety, which further discouraged social contact. Brigette (67) was brutally honest:

You do get depressed and I believe that’s why people suicide … And there have been times when I’ve thought, what is the point to life? I really have thought this can’t go on, you know … I feel sorry for people because it is hard, and once you stay in it’s like crawling out of a slime pit … I have to say, ‘Get up and go out, go up the shops … Pretend you need potatoes or something.’

Not all of the private renters interviewed experienced loneliness. These interviewees usually had strong family ties or had managed to find affordable and secure accommodation.




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Social housing tenants feel less isolated

In sharp contrast, only a small proportion of the social housing tenants interviewed said they were lonely. Almost all were adamant they did not experience loneliness and felt they had strong social ties. Their affordable rent, security of tenure, long-term residence and having neighbours in a similar position meant they could socialise and were not beset by anxiety.

An 85-year-old long-established social housing tenant’s response to the question about loneliness and isolation was typical:

I do like it around here. I know where everything is and I know all the people, especially around these units you know. I know everyone and they know me. I like it around here. This is my home, you know. This is a community, I think. Like I know all the people and we’ve become really good friends. I couldn’t think of being anywhere else. – Kay

Pam, who had been a private renter before being allocated social housing, reflected on how her life had changed:

Well, it is changed because I’m happier and I think I’m healthier and I have a lot of new friends. I also have a lot more people around me for support if anything does happen. If I get sick and if they don’t see me for a few days someone will come and say, ‘Pam, are you OK?’ In private housing there was nobody.

The residualisation of social housing meant some tenants were living in what they perceived to be unbearable conditions. However, they generally were able to deal with their situation. Patricia coped with her very challenging neighbours by going to the local community centre.

No, I hate it [public housing]. I live here [at the community centre] every day. Yes, I’m on the committee here and I do things every day. This is my home, my family. Everybody is friendly with everybody. We have outings and things.

What the interviews indicate is that the housing tenure of age pensioners often plays a fundamental role in whether they are able to escape the experience of loneliness. Older private renters are far more likely to experience loneliness than their counterparts in social housing and that loneliness can be acute.

* All the names used are pseudonyms.




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The Conversation


Alan Morris, Research Professor, University of Technology Sydney and Andrea Verdasco, Research Associate, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.