Time to Change our Mindset on Social Isolation

Why we need to think about Physical Distancing and not Social Isolation

Right now almost every country around the world is calling for mandatory social distancing We know it is the number one way we can slow the spread of the Coronavirus… Yet as humans we are fundamentally social creatures.

Why, as Audiologists are we concerned about social isolation? Preserving human connection essentially underpins everything we do.

Reduced social interaction poses a huge concern to psychologists who are thinking in terms of the long term psychological impact this period will have on our lives. There are also concerns amongst psychologists of social isolation being a risk factor for developing anxiety and depression.

The Australian Government is asking for us to think of this crisis in terms of months, not weeks. So how do we combat the emotional impact that social isolation and its best friend loneliness will have on ourselves, our family and friends over this period?


The Facts:

We know a great deal about the impact of social isolation, loneliness on mental and physical health.

In my Brain and Hearing Health Seminars I talk about how one of the main reasons why we want to treat hearing loss is to maintain social connection. This is because there is a growing body of evidence showing a correlation between social isolation and its impact on long term health and quality of life.

According to the ongoing, 75 year-long, Harvard University Grant and Glueck Study , the clearest conclusion researchers made was that quality relationships keep us happier and healthier, long term over and above any other factor that was measured. Without a doubt, great communication is central to quality relationships.

Studies have also shown strong links between social isolation, depression, anxiety and less physical activity. In fact one study showed that isolation has the equivalent adverse impact to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is a greater threat to our health than obesity.

Hearing Loss and it's impact on health

(Pettite et al 2015) 

This is why we need a shift in our mindset.

How do we stay physically distant from others yet still connected?

 There is a growing call for us to move past thinking in terms of social distancing and move towards the term physical distancing. This term recognises that although there is a great need for us to maintain actual physical distance between each other and less physical contact, that DOES NOT mean we should reduce our social connection.

We need to readjust the way we interact with one another over this period.

Let’s be honest, no amount of rebranding of the term social distancing will change the fact that we are living in a very different world to what we were at the start of 2020.

It is going to be crucial over the next few months that we adapt and help our loved ones to adapt. So we all come out the other side of this global health crisis as healthy and emotionally intact as possible.

Where to start?

Can you imagine if we’d had to go through this ordeal even 15 years ago? We are lucky we live a digital age, where staying socially connected, whilst maintaining physical distance is relatively easy.

Melbourne Based, registered Psychologist Ms Jill Searle recommends that ‘Preparation is key right now, as this could be our new norm for quite some time. Having a plan of how we manage our time. Literally getting a calendar or diary and scheduling activities every day is highly encouraged. There are so many free resources available right now. Even undertake an online course to upskill in some area, or learn something new.’

I was talking to an 84 year old recently, who purchased a keyboard so they can start learning to play for the first time. He is now taking online lessons because he recognised the need to keep himself occupied and connected over this time.

If he can do it, anyone of us can!

Some Ideas On How to Stay Connected

  • Physical Activity A growing body of research shows physical activity impacts our brain’s health. (link) We also know there is a strong link between physical activity and reduced rates of depression and anxiety.


    • Get out while we still can If you are in a place where you are still allowed to go for a walk, meet up with a friend to spend time together – whilst maintaining the recommended two arms distance between the two of you.


    • Get online we know learning new skills is a great way to maintain brain health. Right now it’s going to be up to us to get outside our comfort zone and do things a little differently. For example take up an online yoga or meditation class or even try a an online fitness class. Not only will it help you stay connected and maintain physical health but you’re building new connections in your brain by trying something new.


  • Video Calls – If you have elderly friends or family, especially those who are already in complete physical lock down, it is a perfect time to teach them how to press the FaceTime button on the Apple iPhone or walk them through how to use Zoom, Skype, Facebook or WhatsApp onto their phone or computer.


    • Don’t forget you can create the Log In for them remotely, so it’s a simpler process.


    • Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp also allow you to have multiple people on a video call at once, if you wanted to get multiple members of the family or your friendship group involved.


    • Hearing Loss and Video Calling – Don’t forget if you are utilising these services with a person who has hearing loss to make sure you speak one at a time and clearly. Using head phones whilst on the computer can help. Otherwise having devices where the phone call or video chat will go directly to the devices (a feature available in some hearing aids) can help ensure clarity in conversation and help your loved ones with a hearing loss stay connected over this period and beyond.


  • Virtual coffee dates, glasses of wine and dinner parties There is a growing number of people who are scheduling virtual catch ups to make sure they are staying connected.


    • I was chatting to 75 year old, who is meeting up virtually with her friends 3 times a week for coffee. Each time they meet up they have to dress in a different theme to keep the boredom and monotony at bay!


    • I also recently heard of a person who’s taken up calling or FaceTiming a friend or family member at dinner time each night, to make sure everyone is staying connected.


  • Find something new or join an online group
    • Maggie Beer  – is streaming free cooking classes from her home in Victoria – Cooking with Maggie through Facebook and Instagram. Michelin-starred chef Massimo Botturais sharing recipes and cooking tips on his Instagram account . Alternatively pull out a recipe you’ve always wanted to try, organise a time with a friend or two and use video chat to learn to cook it together.


    • Couch Choir  – is an initiative of the group Pub Choir, who bring people together at local pubs to sing. They have now moved online, so you can join a choir from the comfort of your own couch!


    • House Party – is an App that allows you to play games like Trivia and Celebrity Heads with friends and family. It can be downloaded onto both Android or iPhones. 6 weeks into Quarantine and anything to break up the monotony might seem appealing!


    • Set up time to colour or read with your Grandkids online using a video call (see above). Sesame Workshop, the NonProfit educational organization behind Sesame Street has created the initiative Caring for Each Other. They have a broad variety of free resources including colouring sheets and over 100 eBooks for kids and families to help them cope during the Coronavirus Crisis.


    • Religious and Community Services – fortunately many religious groups had already begun to put their Services online prior, to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Reach out to your local church group to see what they are doing to move their services online. The ABC is also broadcasting services on TV.

Some Final Thoughts

Psychologist Ms Jill Searle says that you can be physically distant from others yet still be connected, just like you can be alone but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are lonely.

There is no doubt that the world has changed and we need to adapt to thrive.

Focusing on the positive is going to be essential. Research shows that adopting a perspective of gratitude, despite the limitations currently being placed on us can help to maintain that level of positivity and prevent stress and anxiety from creeping in. (Remember that managing stress is a key to keeping tinnitus at bay)

It’s crucial to take a look at all of the normal weekly activities and social events you would be involved in and see if there is a way to continue to carry these out online or interject something similar, for the time being.

If you are feeling lonely or isolated reach out. Just like we need to look after those is our family and community who have a hearing loss, so therefore struggle to remain socially connected now we have to look after each other for exactly the same reasons.

We need to make sure that one of the things that makes us fundamentally human, our need for social connection is maintained over this period of time.

Interested in learning more about the impact of hearing loss and social connection?

Read through My 2 Hour Hearing & Brain Health Seminar in 4 Minutes