Jane Portnoy is Social Worker – Haemophilia at the Ronald Sawers Haemophilia Centre, The Alfred hospital, Melbourne
Q: I haven’t been spending much time with other people lately and I have started to feel quite flat. I do enjoy my own company, but it feels like I have less friends and activities in my life that I used to, especially compared to pre-COVID. Do you have any advice?
Many people are describing similar experiences. COVID was a big disruptor to social connection. As a community we were asked to spend so much time separate from others.
For some it was a relief and quite enjoyable to have a break from the stress that comes with interacting with others or being part of community groups. However, whilst it might have been good for a while, the big picture was different and as those relationships slowly dropped off, the common experience was that it left feelings of loneliness and isolation.
We know that these are skills that need to be practiced. Much like your muscles need to be exercised, you need to exercise your social skills or else they will shrink up and your confidence will disappear too. When that happens, it can get harder and harder to try new activities if they involve interacting with people.
You might be relieved that you don’t have to do the ‘work’ of socialising, however the down side is that when you don’t make connections and haven’t got those skills at the ready, you can become detached. Other people add the “spice” to everyday life. You may also miss out on the support of others. Having someone to be there for you and building close friends – these things require you to meet people to start with.
Older members of the community may have less opportunity to meet new people, and also are impacted by more illness and disability for themselves and with their friends. Of course, this doesn’t stop the importance of connecting, it can just make it harder. This is when we can all make a difference to friends and family by reaching out, saying hi, popping on, sending a message, making an arrangement or asking someone who has been unwell what we can do to support them.
Loneliness is already recognised as a major problem and puts sufferers at greater risk of many health conditions such as stroke, dementia and depression. (1)
Finding new activities
Remember your fears are in your head and not obvious to others. Pick one thing and give it a go, don’t overdo it if you have been spending lots of time in your own company. It can be overwhelming if you do too much.
- Reach out to an old friend, and catch up over a cuppa, go out for a walk, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing together
- Find an activity that you are interested in (even if only slightly) and go to a class or meeting
- Consider whether there are any pre-COVID interests you would like to re-join
- Look at what your local council, local library, TAFE, or University of the Third Age is doing and see if you can attend something
- Think if there is a sport you want to learn, or participate in (maybe there is a local club or social competition)
- Volunteer – you will be making a difference in your community, and you are bound to meet people.
- Join a gym or fitness class.
- The internet provides opportunities to connect with others and has been demonstrated to reduce the experience of loneliness. (2)
Be ‘ready and open’ to meeting new people
When you meet someone new it is important to give them the right message, that you are prepared to talk to them. Ask questions, don’t judge, be authentic, let them get to know something about you, and be yourself.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Accessed 30 March 2023.
2. Liu, J., Tian, G., Xu, J. et al. Effects of mobile Internet use on loneliness among older adults: Health status as a possible moderator? J Public Health (Berl.) (2023). Accessed 30 March 2023.
This article is adapted with permission from Portnoy, J. Ask Us: Getting back to hobbies and socialising. The Missing Factor, magazine of Haemophilia Foundation Victoria, Autumn 2023.