How to stay connected Numerous studies have shown that strong ties with family, friends and the community provide people with happiness, security, support and a sense of purpose. As humans we all crave social connection, it’s just the way we’re wired. It gives us even greater joy when we connect with like-minded individuals who share similar beliefs and values. It has also been proven that prolonged feelings of isolation or loneliness can impact significantly on our physical health over the long term, increasing our risk for heart disease and chronic illnesses. During uncertain times, like transitioning into civilian life, or living through a pandemic, heightened levels of anxiety are experienced. Research shows that being connected to others is important for mental wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression. It is common however, for those already suffering from mental or emotional health challenges to retreat from others and hideaway with their feelings. This is risky and can further exacerbate feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Loneliness is a normal human emotion and at certain points, in our lives, we all experience it to varying degrees. When we start feeling lonely for extended periods of time though, it can be detrimental and this is why reaching out and staying connected to those in your community is crucial. There are a few simple things you can do to keep yourself in the picture, take care of your mental health and ensure you and others are on a shared radar for each other’s wellbeing. Set up regular appointments with family and friends With all of the country at various stages of alert for COVID-19 safety, the options will be different depending on where you are. The principle, however, is the same - pull in your closest contacts and arrange a regular catch up. It could be a coffee in the fresh air, or a regular walk together around your neighbourhood. If you can’t meet in person, a video call where you can chat as you eat your respective dinners solves the issue of eating alone. A Sunday afternoon group video call or maybe even virtual Friday night drinks or Saturday trivia night with a few friends are all ways to not only break up the isolation but to have things to look forward to and bask in the glow of, after the fact. Look for local options to engage with your community If you’re currently locked down then this can be challenging, however many local suburbs now have residents’ Facebook groups that you can join, to keep in touch with how others in your community are feeling. These groups are often the launch point for other community engagement opportunities such as a local singles group drinks, or a group of women who meet for walks in the local area. Something as simple as visiting your local cafe regularly can make a huge difference to your day – especially if you live alone, are in lockdown and they are the only people you can see in person. Along with the fresh air and sunshine, a friendly smile, a brief chat and a warm coffee placed in your hand can transform your mood in surprising ways. Trying to keep busy while alone and with others is also really useful. You’re never too old to make friends If you’re looking for new friends, chances are others will be too. As we move about daily life there are often opportunities to form new relationships - we just have to be brave and put ourselves out there. Maybe there’s someone at your weekly exercise class, who might meet up with you before or after class one day. A simple smile or hello to a neighbour can start the process of getting to know each other and becoming more familiar – or even better, just knocking on a neighbour’s door to say “hi” and let them know you’re there if they need anything. Too often we talk ourselves out of things that others wish they were brave enough to do first! It can be scary and uncomfortable but think about how happy you would be if the roles were reversed. Beginning to look at friendships this way helps us all realise that we’re all in this together. Help out by volunteering If you’re free to move about, look for local volunteer options that will fill in some time and provide you with opportunities to interact with others. Delivering books to the elderly is a useful service offered by many local libraries for example. You could also visit or contact your local council to find out about local groups or programs you may be able to assist with. Volunteering can be a greatly enriching experience as you’re not only getting the benefit of social interactions, you’re also putting your skills towards a greater cause of helping people live better lives. The positive effects of volunteering on mental and physical health as been well documented, helping to combat stress and depression, provide a sense of purpose and boost self-confidence just to name a few. Talk to a health professional Not all of us have the confidence to meet new people, try new things or talking about our feelings of loneliness with people close to us. It makes us feel vulnerable and can be overwhelming. If you really feel you have nobody and can’t make connections with strangers, secure yourself a regular appointment with a GP or a mental health professional. A good GP will happily take a mental health and wellness appointment and can set you up with a mental health care plan if needed. They can also connect you to regular funded sessions with a mental health professional, such as a counsellor or psychologist if you need something more focussed. Talking to someone about how we think and feel is surely one of the most undervalued, but most powerful services offered within our health care system. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or need to talk to someone, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1800 61 44 34. If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can also contact us at Carry On Victoria for guidance and support.