Connecting Safely: How to Overcome Loneliness While Distancing (virtual seminar)
Thursday, May 7, at 11:00 a.m. CST
Maintaining social connection and good self-care are key to combating the negative mental health outcomes related to isolation because of the coronavirus, especially for older adults. But as the weeks of social distancing continue, many older adults are beginning to experience the emotional effects of isolation more profoundly.
Regional non-profit organizations AGE of Central Texas and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Central Texas are combining their resources to tackle the negative isolation issues that Central Texas older adults are confronting. Experts from both organizations will present the free virtual seminar “Connecting Safely: How to Overcome Loneliness While Distancing” on Thursday, May 7, at 11:00 a.m. CST providing resources, suggestions and support to help older adults better cope with the continuing “Stay Home, Stay Safe” requirements. Participants can RSVP at https://tinyurl.com/may-7-seminar to view the seminar live on May 7, and a recording of the seminar will be posted after the event.
Experts from both organizations note that the effects of social distancing on older adults, necessary due to the coronavirus, are exposing an already-concerning situation.
“The most recent statistics about social isolation say that 43% of persons over the age of 60 report feeling socially isolated, even before the coronavirus outbreak,” said Annette Juba, Deputy Director for AGE of Central Texas. “And although older adults are one of the most vulnerable populations in terms of exposure to the coronavirus, the effects of social isolation are being multiplied as the stay-at-home orders continue.”
“Humans are hardwired for connection,” said Karen Ranus, Executive Director for NAMI Central Texas. “At any age, we need social connection to stay healthy.”
This means that social distancing not only exacerbates loneliness among those who already felt isolated, Juba said, but it can also create emotional stress among those who didn’t previously experience distress.
Juba noted that social isolation and loneliness also contribute – directly or indirectly – to physical decline. Loneliness is physically stressful, and chronic stress often leads to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and lowered immune function. In addition, she noted that changes in a person’s social network can also mean that an older adult’s practical health arrangements are altered. For example, the older adult might not have access to the support system that provided transportation to medical appointments or reminders to take medications.
The most immediate way to alleviate loneliness is through relationships, Juba said, and people all need to have a variety of relationships – including:
- deep connections to people we know well (closest family, oldest friends, etc.),
- more casual connections to friends and acquaintances, and
- connections to the community.
“Even missing one of these connections results in changes to one’s emotional health,” Juba said. “Losing connections to your community, even if you live with your spouse, can change a person’s emotional health or outlook.”
Ranus added that in light of the current situations, older adults need to be creative about how they maintain their social connections.
“Using Facetime, Zoom, or other video conferencing technology is great,” she said. “If video isn’t an option, then just a phone call can be so meaningful.”
She said scheduling a daily, regular time to call or video chat can help rebuild a sense of normalcy and purpose. The chats don’t have to be long or varied, she said, but every bit of connection helps.
“If possible, being physically near others without being too close can help,” Ranus added. “Sitting in a car nearby and talking on the phone or visiting through a screen door can work.”
Anxiety and feelings of helplessness and isolation are exacerbated by breaks in routine and loss of good healthy living, so maintaining good self-care is also important. Keeping positive habits such as eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, staying hydrated, daily exercising, and efforts to maintain a regular schedule are important for ensuring both physical and mental health.
“Another effect of social distancing in response to coronavirus – an ‘invisible’ threat – is the feeling of not having control over our situations,” Juba said. “Normally, one way to regain control is to tap into such coping strategies as attending religious practices, getting together with personal connections, and following our regular habits. During this social distancing, many of our ‘go to’ coping strategies are different or inaccessible, and that change is yet another stressor.”
Ranus said that using tools to help calm anxiety and stress can be essential. Meditation, controlled breathing, journaling, and drawing or other artistic endeavors are all proven methods of combating stress. Plus limiting news consumption, she added.
“There are also numerous local online or phone resources available to support mental health,” she said. “These 24-hour mental health hotlines are a great resource for anyone needing additional help, including crisis intervention.”
Local resources include:
• Travis County: 512-472-4357 (Integral Care)
• Bastrop, Elgin, Georgetown, Giddings, Gonzales, Hutto, La Grange, Luling, Marble Falls, Round Rock, Schulenburg, Seguin, Taylor: 1-800-841-1255 (Bluebonnet Trail Community Services)
• Hays County: 1-877-466-0660 (Hill Country MHDD Centers)
NAMI Central Texas also has a list of mental health options listed online at http://namicentraltx.org/coronavirus. In addition, AGE of Central Texas has an extensive online portal of at-home activities for older adults to help prevent feelings of isolation, along with resources for family caregivers, at http://www.AGEofCentralTX.org.