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A psychologist’s 5 tips for staying connected while isolated

Dr Marny Lishman
A dad smiles has he cuddles his toddler who is playing on his phone

Now’s the time to up your app game

A dad smiles has he cuddles his toddler who is playing on his phone

Maintaining work, friend and family connections during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic isn’t as simple as it used to be. As we protect ourselves and others, it’s important we follow the government's advice on social distancing and public gathering limits.

But when you’re not heading into the office, and your ability to meet up with loved ones is restricted, it can be difficult to feel connected to others.

Psychologist and author, Dr Marny Lishman, says this can be really hard for us because humans are ‘pack animals’.

“I think on that primal level, when we don’t have a connection and we’re isolated, we can feel really vulnerable and uneasy,” Marny says.

Many of us may feel lonely at this time, which can be a risk to both our physical and mental health. So how can we stay connected while keeping the community safe?

1. Get ‘appy’

Now’s the time to up your app game, Marny suggests. Try using Zoom or Houseparty for group video chats, sending quirky photos on Snapchat, video-calling friends and family using WhatsApp or Skype or finding your neighbourhood’s community page on Facebook.

Use social media to contact friends but don’t get stuck scrolling mindlessly for too long. Check out our suggestions to protect yourself from social media overload.

2. Speak your friend’s language

We have lots of ways to keep in touch, but not everyone likes the same method of communication – or is free when you are. Marny says we need to figure out how our friends like to communicate.

“We’re going to have to be a little bit more intuitive or use our emotional intelligence to get the gist of how they want to still talk. Sometimes it might be just sending funny memes to make an impact on someone’s day.”

If your friend or family member doesn’t have access to a smartphone or the internet, give them a call on their landline or send them a good old-fashioned letter, Marny suggests.

3. Do something together

When we catch up with friends and family, we usually have dinner together, go for a walk or watch a movie. Now that everyone’s routine is simplified, you may feel like you quickly run out of exciting things to say. But we can still have dinner or watch a movie at the same time as a friend, while chatting to them on the phone. Doing the same activity while you’re chatting means you’ll spend some quality time together in a relaxed way.

4. Find a way to continue your hobbies

Hobbies provide a welcome distraction in a stressful time. Unable to get to the gym? Join an online fitness class. Longing for a girls’ night? Schedule a group chat. Wish you could hear some live music? Lots of artists are livestreaming.

“If we can retain as much of normality as possible and adjust where we have to, I think we’ll ride through this time of distancing a lot better,” says Marny.

If you can’t keep up your regular hobby from home, it might be time to start a new one, such as painting by numbers or learning a new language.

A young woman sits in the doorframe to outside with a cup of a coffee and her phone

5. Connect with work buddies

If you’re working from home, you may miss being able to bounce ideas around with your colleagues easily. But with the right set-up, you can create a good home-office vibe.

  • Keep a schedule to help you stay focussed: Marny recommends keeping your regular meetings so that workmates can remain on the same page

  • Check in: We’re used to a bit of small talk about weekends or lunch plans. You can use online messaging apps to keep up those quick moments of connection with colleagues. “If we’re happy and we’re engaged with people, that’s when we’re going to be at our most productive. So I think we have to retain all those things that we would normally be doing,” says Marny

  • Create work boundaries: When working from home it can be hard to switch off from work, which may cause extra stress. Try to keep your usual work hours and set time aside to relax or talk to friends

It’s important to ask for help when you need it. You may feel lonely, overwhelmed or stressed by the changes in your life during this time. Check out Beyond Blue’s advice on coping during the coronavirus outbreak or if you have an urgent need for help with your mental health - contact one of the helplines below.

National helplines

  • Lifeline (24 hours): 13 11 14

  • Kids Helpline (24 hours): 1800 55 1800

  • MensLine Australia (24 hours): 1300 78 99 78

  • SANE Helpline (mental illness information, support and referral): 1800 18 7263

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Dr Marny Lishman

Marny Lishman is a qualified psychologist who believes the challenges many people face are due to their lack of knowledge surrounding the mindset and lifestyle balance required to live a healthy, satisfying and fulfilling life. She is passionate about teaching the tools and techniques to promote a healthy mindset for better wellbeing and more success. Marny is partial to soy chai lattes and is on a mission to find Australia’s best avocado smash.