Physical distancing and isolating yourself from others in the age of COVID-19 is creating new and unique challenges, particularly for older Australians. Here’s how to look after yourself while you navigate the journey.
While it’s every Australian’s responsibility to practise physical distancing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, older Australians have also been advised to stay home wherever possible.
That means you’re probably already in self-isolation, a situation that requires being physically separated from loved ones and perhaps feeling as if your life and day-to-day routine have been abruptly turned upside down. For older people living by themselves, who depend on visits from friends and family for company, this sense of isolation will be even more keenly felt.
Understandably, being isolated may cause boredom, frustration and even fear or anxiety. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to help stay well and feel positive as we ride out the pandemic.
Social connections are not only essential for mental health and well-being, they can also help us cope in stressful situations. Staying in touch with friends and family, including grandchildren, can be as simple as picking up the phone, but video call systems such as Skype and FaceTime can be really helpful too, as they allow for face-to-face catch-ups from a distance.
If you need some help using this kind of technology, consider signing up to Be Connected, a free online learning program designed to help older Australians connect digitally.
Perspective is key
It’s understandable that you might be fearful about becoming unwell at the moment, and whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s okay.
However, instead of imagining worst-case scenarios, try to keep things in perspective – and remember that this situation is temporary.
When things feel uncertain and beyond your control, instead of allowing your mind to spend too much time pondering those “what-if?” questions, it can help to focus on the actions and things in your life that are within your control.
Even though your daily routine may have temporarily changed, how you fill your day and what you spend time doing is still within your control. And while it’s natural to think about the activities you can’t do, make a conscious effort to focus on what you can do.
It’s also important to remember that by isolating yourself and using social distancing if you do need to leave home, you are being proactive and taking precautions.
Try to only consume news, updates and information about the pandemic from accurate, reliable sources, and consider limiting how much time you spend on social media (if you use it) as you can become overexposed to negative and sensationalised coverage. Instead, stay busy doing things you enjoy, whether that’s gardening, reading, listening to podcasts or watching television.
Create a new routine
Making sure your days have structure, even though your usual visits and away-from-home activities have been put on hold for now, can help provide a sense of normality and purpose. Schedule tasks, like cleaning and doing the laundry, make ‘appointments’ to catch up with people from a distance and spend time on activities that you like to give your day routine.
Look after yourself
It’s really important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so focus on eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and doing some regular physical activity, whether that’s going for a walk around your garden – if you have one – or finding a way to exercise at home.
Special measures, including additional opening hours , have been introduced at major supermarkets to help older Australians get access to the supplies they need, or you could ask friends and family to pick up some shopping for you. Older Australians can also access short-term home support services (including meals) in an emergency without having had an aged-care assessment. Speak with a local home care provider about accessing this support if you need it.
Resolve to relax
With so much uncertainty around us, being conscious of relaxing will give your body a chance to settle and readjust to a calm state. Relax in whatever way works for you, bearing in mind that ‘active relaxation’ strategies such as meditation and mindfulness techniques, as well as breathing exercises, muscle relaxation and guided visualisation, are particularly effective and can even help you manage some of the symptoms of anxiety. Learning to relax can take some practice, but the more you practise the more helpful you’ll find the technique you choose to use.