Stay at home orders have caused feelings of isolation and loneliness in many Melbournians (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Tull et al., 2020; Tso & Park, 2020). The effects of being confined to a 5-kilometre radius of home, and being under curfew every evening, can make many feel as if their world has shrunk, reducing the opportunity for social connections (Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] News, 2020a; News.com.au, 2020; The Age, 2020b) .
For some, working from home and being close to family has fostered togetherness and an appreciation for the relationships of people within the home (Guessoum et al., 2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020). Potentially more people are cooking and eating together, supporting family members working or home schooling, and through this appreciating each other more (Guessoum et al.,2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020). Parents may find they have more time to ‘be present’ with their children without the daily commutes to work and school, but rather eating breakfast together and then everyone attending to their various work/school commitments from different spaces in the house, often still clad in pyjama bottoms with crazy hair (Guessoum et al.,2020)! Other parents find the balance of caring for children and demands of working from home a burden (Zvolensky et al., 2020).
Financial stress through job insecurities or loss can be immense and children can be negatively impacted by parents who are so worried and anxious they are unable to offer emotional support to their children (Tull et al., 2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020).
People living alone, the elderly and people living with disabilities are at high risk for loneliness which can affect immune health negatively (Chen et al., 2020; Emerson et al., 2020). Many people have heard the phrase ‘died from a broken heart’ and it is true that the incidence of death when a partner dies goes up for the surviving partner (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). Loneliness can increase mortality (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Tso & Park, 2020).
Isolation due to stay at home orders and social distancing can reduce the social supports particularly for at risk groups (Emerson, et al., 2020; Tull et al., 2020). Older people can miss interaction with their grandchildren or other young people that bring them joy of fresh ideas and energy (Chen et al., 2020). People with disability may have reduced carer support available to them at home (Emerson, et al., 2020).
Walking outside for many people can be a chance to connect with others but masks have hidden smiles, causing many to reach out verbally with a cheery ‘Good morning!’ (Guessoum et al.,2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020). For some, due to ill health, older age, disability, or anxiety, leaving home for a walk around the block is not an option (Chen et al., 2020).
Expressions are so important and help with communication and context as well as expressing warmth and connection (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Guessoum et al.,2020). Video calls over Skype or Zoom have been popular during lockdown (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Chen et al., 2020; Tso & Park, 2020). These communications are far superior to text, phone conversations, or face book posts but for some, technology is a barrier due to cognitive ability to understand how to use devices or for those unable to afford them or the internet subscription (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Chen et al., 2020).
Isolation and staying home can increase anxiety and depression in people already diagnosed with mental health issues (Guessoum et al., 2020; Tso & Park, 2020). Adolescents are particularly vulnerable as they are still growing and maturing cognitively and do not have the benefit of life experience to balance out what they may read on social media sites (Guessoum et al., 2020; Oosterhoff et al., 2020). They also have experienced the loss of milestones like graduations, formals, getting their driving licence amongst other things (Zvolensky et al., 2020). Family support for adolescents is vital and talking openly at home about how everyone is feeling creates a nurturing environment to navigate through the pandemic (Guessoum et al., 2020; Oosterhoff et al., 2020). How parents cope with the pandemic, their resilience and resolve can positively affect the children (Guessoum et al., 2020).
Social media can be a great way for adolescents to stay connected with their peers, but time on devices should be moderated, as too much screen time is linked to anxiety and depression which can negatively affect sleep (Guessoum et al., 2020). Teens should be encouraged to video chat with their friends as this increases their sense of belonging and lessen burdens they may feel (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020: Guessoum et al., 2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020).
Due to the pace of life many people may have felt lonely and isolated prior to the pandemic with not enough time to catch up (Emerson et al., 2020). Friendships take work and commitment by both people (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). For some the lock down has given opportunity for friends to reconnect with better accessibility to chat to each other and check in with how each other is feeling (Guessoum et al., 2020; Tull et al., 2020).
Anyone who has lost a love one during the pandemic and during lock down realises the unfairness of not being able to mourn or honour their loved one due to limits on funeral sizes and social distancing (Guessoum at al., 2020; Zvolensky et al., 2020). It has been heartbreaking to learn of stories of people dying without their families there to support them (Guessoum et al., 2020; The Age, 2020a). How inhumane is that (Wakam et al., 2020)? These relationships give people the utmost of support and emotional well-being so the whole process of being distant at such a significant time as death is counterintuitive (Wakam et al., 2020).
Loss of freedoms with lock down orders has bolstered community spirit which can be seen in acts of kindness whether it be a free offer to help a struggling business online, or herbs left outside a house for people to collect (Zvolensky et al., 2020). There is a feeling of we are in this together in Victoria and this can reduce loneliness (ABC News, 2020a; Tull et al., 2020). As in any past world crisis, people often unite in powerful ways (Tull et al., 2020).
It is integral that during lock down and beyond people connect with each other (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Guessoum et al., 2020; Oosterhoff et al, 2020; Tso & Park, 2020). Research demonstrates that those who are part of a club, meet their friends regularly, belong to a church group or play sport have more friends and are happier (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). During the pandemic many of these opportunities have been stopped due to fears of virus spread (ABC News, 2020b).
Stay connected by using video conferencing via platforms like Skype, Zoom or Facetime to see your friend or family member’s face whilst you talk (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). If you know an elderly person who is technically challenged why not get a support person, they are permitted to see during lock down facilitate a video catch up for them with their family on the support person’s device? Loneliness and isolation can worsen dementia in lock down (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). Phone people regularly especially people who live alone, have anxiety, are elderly or that friend that seems to have withdrawn recently (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020; Chen et al., 2020; Guessoum et al., 2020).
Endorphins are released that give us feelings of happiness when people hug (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). You can get similar effects from a good belly laugh, having a dance, enjoying food, or telling a story that you are emotionally connected to (Bzdok & Dunbar, 2020). So, get connected over video chat and whilst connected, tell a joke, have a belly dance competition, share a meal, or listen to someone tell you a story.
Stay connected Melbourne. We are in this together!
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