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How to stay connected with family when you can’t be together

Dr Marny Lishman
Grandparents talking to grandchild remotely on tablet

Keep your far-away loved ones close during COVID-19 with these fun ideas

Grandparents talking to grandchild remotely on tablet

For many of us, the hardest part about the COVID-19 pandemic has been separation from our loved ones. Whether they’re overseas, interstate, stuck in seemingly endless lockdowns or have health issues that make them particularly vulnerable, this distance between friends
and family members has touched everyone. But there are ways to combat the loss of connection we’re all feeling

“Staying connected to our loved ones is extremely important at the best of times and
even more so in the worst of times,” says psychologist, author and mindset coach Dr Marny Lishman. “Human beings are pack animals and we thrive psychologically when we can connect with the people close to us. This enables us to chat, debrief about our day and learn from each other’s experiences, as well as giving us the opportunity for support for what we are going through.”

Why staying connected to family is good for us

Our need for connection is a primal drive. “From an evolutionary perspective, anyone who was disconnected from their tribe would have felt anxious, stressed and vulnerable,” explains Marny. “A long time ago they would have been vulnerable to predators!”

But even now, a lack of connection can bring up those same feelings.

Connectedness can help guard against these feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression, which is more important now than ever, with the effects of the ongoing pandemic taking a toll on our mental health. Many of us are feeling increased levels of anxiety, overwhelm and confusion, while the social isolation of lockdown – particularly for those living alone – can make us feel depressed and lonely.

Despite the physical distance between us, staying connected to family and loved ones can help us maintain our emotional closeness. For young and old alike, keeping those strong ties with family members can help foster a sense of purpose and security, as well as boosting our happiness and self-esteem.

Related: Are you anxious or just worried? How to tell the difference

Family having dinner with woman joining in on laptop

Getting together with family when you’re apart 

While we may not be able to get together in person with our extended family and friends as a result of the pandemic, there are ways we can stay connected and hook into the mental health benefits that connection with our favourite people gives us.

“We’re lucky in the modern world that’s filled with handy tech that we still can connect with the people we love – unlike those poor people who went through the Spanish Flu back in 1918,” says Marny. “We can still text message, email and video call, and we have myriad other channels via which to reach out to our people.”

Social media is a good way to check in with others and share our thoughts and feelings during this trying time. It’s important, however, to hide or unfollow people and content that cause stress or anxiety.

Group chats using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts are a great way to keep extended family members in touch with each other, no matter where in the world you all are. And if you’ve been working from home, you’ll likely be familiar with video conferencing – but it isn’t just for business meetings. Try Zoom for regular trivia nights or cooking and eating a meal with the extended family, or have everyone grab a copy of the Sunday paper and video call as you do the crossword as a group.

Of course, it’s not the same as seeing our loved ones in person but try to keep in mind that it’s not forever, advises Marny.

“It will always feel a little different but it’s a temporary measure that allows us to stay connected while we are apart.”

Related: How loneliness affects your body and what to do about it

Keeping kids connected with their grandparents

Older people, in particular, are struggling to stay connected during COVID-19, with less than a quarter of people over the age of 70 having daily contact with family members. This may be to do with a lack of confidence around the technology we’re using to stay in contact, such as FaceTime, Zoom and text messages – but this presents a great way to get the kids involved.

Grandparents often trust their grandkids to help teach them new skills without fear of judgement, so having the littlies show them how to make a video call and then having them practise with a regular call, can help bolster both their confidence and feelings of connection.

If technology is standing in the way of connecting with the older generation in your family, the government’s free Be Connected resources can help with basic digital training, opening up a whole new world of connection for seniors.

And if the techy side of things is proving too difficult, why not go for a more traditional approach to connecting?

If the techy side of things is proving too difficult, why not go for a more traditional approach to connecting?

“We can mix it up a bit and go old-school with a handwritten letter, a postcard or a card,” suggests Marny.

Get the kids to paint or draw something for their grandparents and pop it in the mail – or, if they live close by and restrictions in your area allow it, drop it on their doorstep.

“Funnily enough, things like postcards and handwritten notes can have a more powerful impact seeing as they’re so rare now,” says Marny.

The benefits of planning a reunion

While these are some useful temporary measures for staying connected while we’re apart,
we’re all looking forward to the day we can hold our loved ones close again. Having something to look forward to has a positive effect on our mental health and boosts our wellbeing – and planning an event to mark the occasion is a fun way to make our emergence from pandemic life that much sweeter.

It might be as simple as a barbecue in the local park or a group camping trip – or if your
family is overseas, maybe you’ll start looking into travelling further afield.

Whatever you choose, it’s a good idea to keep up to date with what is allowed in terms of number of people, vaccination status and location (indoors and outdoors) so you can reunite as safely as possible.

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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.