Social distancing may be the norm at the moment but that doesn’t have to mean losing connection with friends, family and loved ones.
Technically speaking, it’s still possible to socialise, albeit virtually, and now more than ever is a time to remain connected with others.
Prior to social distancing, it would be normal to offer a hug to someone going through a hard time, says Livi/KRY chief psychologist, Jesper Enander. ‘Physical contact calms us down. Hugs help us and it’s what we want to do during tough times,’ he says.
During periods of isolation, you can substitute physical contact with other means of support through, for example, messaging, social media and virtual meeting apps. Everybody will require different forms and levels of support depending on their circumstances.
Understanding how you can help is important but caring for, or worrying about, somebody can leave you feeling mentally and emotionally drained. So, make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well.
We have expert advice on how to connect when someone you know is facing a particularly challenging time.
Supporting people who are grieving
It can be hard to know how to offer support to people who have lost someone dear to them.
‘Supporting people who are grieving is not a common experience for most people,’ notes Enander. Although you might not know how to deal with the situation, you should not resist getting in touch. ‘Call them, reach out, ask them how they’re feeling. Don’t be afraid to do that,’ he says.
One important distinction, he explains, is whether you’re being empathetic or sympathetic.
In this situation, empathy is most important as it focuses the attention on the person suffering rather than yourself.
‘Understand people’s feelings and listen to what they’re saying, rather than trying to be sympathetic and saying, ‘I understand… I feel that way too’. That’s not what a grieving person wants to hear.’
Listening is one of the best skills you can implement at this time. Enander recommends:
- Validate their feelings.
- Acknowledge their emotions.
- Don’t be overly-focused on problem-solving.
- Ask how you can be of help.
- Let them know you’re there for them.
It’s also worth considering how the person would prefer you to contact them. It’s important not to make assumptions – some people coping with a bereavement might find a text message easier to respond to than a phone call.
Enander says there are stages to grieving: denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. ‘It’s not uncommon for people to want to be left alone and you have to respect that,’ he says.
Some people will adopt positive daily routines (getting enough sleep, food, drink and rest) while others may use more negative behaviours (drinking too much or sleeping the whole day) to escape or numb the pain. Try to help them focus on maintaining healthy routines, even if they are hurting from the loss of a loved one.
‘You don’t want to be too pushy if someone has died,’ says Enander. It can be useful though, to remind them to take care of themselves. ‘Make sure they eat regularly, drink regularly, sleep properly and have some structure in their daily life.’
Supporting those who have lost jobs
If somebody you know has lost their job or main source of income as a result of the economic pressures of the Covid-19 outbreak, they may be going through a range of emotions. These can range from fear and sadness to a lack of confidence and self-doubt.
Enander recommends you focus on the positives as it’s easy for the person who’s suffering to have a lot of negative thoughts such as, ‘I’ve lost my job, I’m never going to work again, I’m in a crisis’. To shift these thoughts, help them see positives in their life such as children, family and good health.
If people are suffering financially, small gestures such as dropping off food and care packages can offer practical short-term help. Leaving dinner on the doorstep for example, shows you’re thinking of them but also helps them maintain a routine. You can also help them find out about the financial support available from the government and national charities.
If people continue to withdraw and won’t get in touch, Enander stresses that it’s important to continue to reach out. ‘They are going through a lot. It’s not expected that the person will reach out - let them know you are there for them anytime.’
Connecting with elderly friends and relatives
Your elderly friends and loved ones may find themselves isolated at home, as a result of the current recommendations.
This could result in increased loneliness which - even without social distancing - can be more damaging to overall health than obesity or smoking A Harvard study has shown relationships and strong connections are the key to a healthy life..
For this reason, try and make sure you’re connecting with friends and relatives.
You can still organise virtual events through apps such as Zoom that allow for multiple users to chat together and there are plenty of games you can play with them online. Here are some suggestions:
- A virtual quiz night.
- Video call for a dinner gathering.
- Have a virtual book club
- Play drawing and guessing games.
- Play online board games together such as Chess, Monopoly or Scrabble.
If you don’t live close by to elderly relatives or friends in isolation, ask neighbours to check in with them and update you.
If you are nearby, you can help by perhaps dropping off groceries and/or medication on their doorstep. This can provide support and a sense of community.
Helping elderly loved ones prepare for an emergency
While it may be upsetting to think about the idea that elderly loved ones might at some point face a medical emergency, in the current climate, it’s useful to be prepared just in case.
The best way is to make a plan. For elderly relatives and neighbours, the phone is a lifeline, as is having a system in place for regular check-ins. A family or friend rota can help make sure somebody is regularly calling and checking on them.
It can also be helpful to ensure elderly loved ones have a copy of emergency numbers by their phones if they feel unwell or need emergency help.
Encouraging them to create an emergency supply kit with a few days’ worth of medicines and useful items such as spare batteries, glasses and syringes could be useful.
Keeping a list of contact numbers and personal details in the kit could be beneficial so emergency services have all the relevant information they may need.
Emergency kit recommended contents:
- medication they’re taking
- GP and pharmacy details
- insurance details if applicable
- A phone charger
- ongoing treatment details
- allergy information
- support services they use
- Information on mobility challenges
There are also charities and organisations that offer support. This could range from helping out with phone lines to food collections and drop-offs for more vulnerable groups.
If you’re able, there are many ways to help during this time. ‘Continue to ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to help other people now.’ says Enander.
Practical steps to help:
- Reach out and be a listening ear. Don’t push advice on people who are grieving or have lost their jobs but acknowledge their feelings and ask how you can help.
- Connect with friends and family in isolation with virtual meetings and games.
- Think about practical ways you can help as well as phone calls and messages.
Reviewed by: Harriet Bradley, Medical Director, Livi