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07/Oct/2021

This is the second of two articles exploring ways we can tend to our close relationships, to ensure they remain strong and supportive. The first looked at the relationship with a partner, spouse, or significant friend. You can read it here

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another,
‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one” — C.S. Lewis

How often do you see a post on social media from a friend or family member and think, ‘it’s been ages since I’ve seen/called/talked with them…’? Or going about your day, you see something that triggers a memory of a great time with someone important to you, and you can’t remember when you last spoke?

It’s so easy for life to get away from us and lose contact with our family and good friends. Finding time amidst all of our other obligations, the general busyness of life, and let’s not forget COVID ?, can push staying in touch to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list. But this inattention and neglect can distance us from the significant people in our lives. And it’s during times like these that we need them, and they need us more than ever.

Healthy relationships are good for our physical and mental health. They help us feel less stressed, reduce feelings of loneliness, distract us from pain, boost our immune system and make us feel happier and more resilient. They provide support when our various health issues make us feel exhausted and sad. And they bolster our mood when the long days of COVID make everything seem so grey.

That’s why we need to nurture these relationships with our family and close friends.

Here are some strategies you can use:

Make them a priority.
Value your relationships and work hard to keep them strong. Tend to them as you would any living thing – with regular care and attention. Build time into your day/week/month for them, and make this time sacrosanct. How often you connect depends on the depth of the relationship; however, the important thing is to make it happen. Don’t let them fall by the wayside as if they’re unimportant.

Accept (and embrace) our differences.
We’re all different (and isn’t that amazing!), but that means we can have differences of opinions, beliefs and lifestyles that may cause friction from time to time. Accept that this is the case. These differences can challenge us to consider other viewpoints and opinions. They can lead to exciting discussions and debates. But they can also lead to conflict and anger. If this happens, take some time to breathe, reflect on the situation, and return to it when you both feel calm. This may be challenging at times, but if it’s something you can move past, or if you can agree to disagree, do so. However, if the issue isn’t something you can ignore or live with, or your relationship has changed to the point that it makes you unhappy, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.

Trust your peeps.
Trusting someone takes bravery and can make us feel vulnerable. But it also builds intimacy with another person. When this trust is reciprocal, you can share your deepest thoughts and fears without fear of judgement. You can ask for help when you’re in pain or feeling overwhelmed. Apart from how great it feels to know that you have someone in your corner who you can trust with your deepest and darkest, it also feels great to be on the receiving end of that trust.

Show your appreciation.
People are adaptive and become used to things very quickly. So it’s easy to start taking a person for granted when you’re so used to them being there, listening to you, providing support. We get used to these things and don’t notice them as much because they’re always there. So take notice. Tell them how much you appreciate them. Give them your full attention when they’re speaking. Thank them when they do something for you. Send them a note or a small present out of the blue to let them know that you’re thinking of them.

Schedule, schedule, schedule!
We’re always so busy, so it’s a good idea when catching up with someone important that you make a date for the next catch-up before you part ways. That way, you can both put it in your diaries, and you have a firm commitment.

Create alerts.
Again, we’re busy bees ?, and things can slip by without us pausing to take note. That’s why I put birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates in my calendar and create alerts for them. It might be an alert to call them on the date or one that gives me time to find a card and gift and post it to them in time.

Establish traditions and routines.
We tend to have friends and family members that we associate with specific things or activities. For example, the friend you work out with, the sister you go to galleries with, the mate you go to the cricket with, the friend who’s always up for a spontaneous adventure. Taking advantage of these traditions means that you can catch up and enjoy shared interests. Win, win!

Share your interests.
We’re all looking for recommendations for books, movies, TV shows, podcasts etc (especially during lockdowns!). Share what you’re reading, watching or listening to, and your opinions. Create a discussion group – that sounds so formal ? – but it could occur during happy hour, video chat, social media or a walk around the park.

Call them.
Never underestimate the power of simply picking up the phone and having a chat, even a quick one.

Connect IRL.
Endless lockdowns and border closures have made connecting in real life so much sweeter. So if you can, and it’s safe to do so, catch up with your peeps in person for a walk, picnic, coffee, bike ride…whatever works for you.

Send photos.
With a smartphone, we can easily share our lives with important people. I’m not a selfie person, but I do take pics of things I see – a sunrise, a dog taking its owner for a walk, or a fantastic meal I can’t believe I cooked. The ordinary things that mean a lot to me and the people I share them with. And in return, I get pics from their days. It provides a glimpse into the everyday of lives, especially if we can’t be there in person.

Value the quick connections.
How often do you put off a call or catch up because you don’t think you have time? Not all of our connections need to be long or deep, and meaningful. A quick call to say hello, a silly selfie, a short text, or a quick email can help sustain relationships between the longer catch-ups.

Pay attention to how you feel.
Next time you’re with your close family or friends, pay attention to how you feel when you’re with them. How’s your mood compared to how it is when you haven’t seen them in a while? Even when they drive us crazy, we usually feel happy and more content when we spend time with these people.

Learn to forgive.
People have the power to hurt us. This can make us feel angry, sad and a whole host of other emotions. But we can control how we choose to deal with the hurt and our feelings. We can stew and brood – but this only makes us feel bad. Or we can forgive the person for the pain they caused. This doesn’t mean it’s forgotten or that the offense is suddenly excused or ok. It simply means that you’re taking control of the way you feel and healing the hurt. But it’s not always easy, so for some tips read, Eight keys to forgiveness from The Greater Good Science Center.

Apologise.
On the flip side of forgiveness is knowing when you’ve hurt others and when to apologise. This can be really tough because it’s hard to acknowledge that we’ve hurt someone or done something wrong. But it’s necessary to heal a relationship. It’s also crucial that we respect the other person’s feelings and that they may not be ready to forgive immediately. Be gentle and take time.

Allow for spontaneity.
Sometimes you just need to toss your schedules and chores out the window and be spontaneous!! Call the friend who’s always up for an adventure or the one in need of some good, old-fashioned fun, and throw caution to the wind. Go on a road trip, hit the shops, have a movie marathon. Whatever works for you and brings you together ?.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends.
I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” — Jane Austen

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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05/Aug/2021

Humans have evolved to be an incredibly social species. That’s why our connections are so important to us – with family, friends, work colleagues, teammates, walking buddies, fellow book clubbers and staff at the local coffee shop. They all play a role in shaping who we are and how we get on in the world.

So when we can’t see these people in person due to lockdowns, restrictions, quarantine and the general chaos of COVID, it’s really hard on us.

The last 16 months have been so wearing – both physically and emotionally. We’re living with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress – what will the case numbers be today, when will I be able to visit loved ones, how long will we be homeschooling, when will life go back to ‘normal’??

Unfortunately, there aren’t any simple answers for any of these questions – especially the last one.

But there’s a simple thing you can do to combat the loneliness, lethargy, emotional fatigue and general feeling of ‘meh’ that COVID is causing us to feel. And that’s staying in touch with your peeps and extended community.

How to stay connected when you have to stay apart

First, we should never forget that restrictions and social distancing measures are all about physical distance. We need to remain separate from others so that the virus can’t spread. But that doesn’t mean we have to be socially separated or isolated.

Even before the pandemic, we used technology to remain connected. COVID has just put that on the fast track, and we’ve become familiar with video chats, long phone calls, and messaging.

So what else can you do to ensure you remain connected with the people and places important to you?

Check in. And no, there’s no QR code involved in this one ?! Take time daily to check in with yourself. How are you doing? If you’re feeling anxious or lonely, or overwhelmed, reach out to others for support. If you’re feeling fatigued or in pain, what can you do to deal with this? Taking a few moments to check in with yourself each day helps you deal with any issues before they become significant problems.

Take time to connect with those in your own home – your partner, kids, parents, siblings, housemates, pets, plants??. How’s everyone doing? Share your experiences and feelings about the day. And if you want to go beyond the small talk, try these ‘36 questions for increasing closeness’ from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley (USA).

Phone a friend. Make a regular time to call/video chat with those important to you. And make that day/time sacred – nothing (other than an emergency) should get in the way of this contact.

Get everyone involved. Call your nearest and dearest for a group chat and…watch movies, listen to music, make dinner, enjoy happy hour, fold the washing, discuss a book, play online games. You can still do things together even if you can’t be together.

Get out and walk. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental health, so get out and breathe in the fresh air. Take the family for a stroll, or meet up with a friend in the park. If you can’t walk with your usual crew, link your fitness apps and compare how many steps you’ve done for a little friendly competition ?. Go on a scavenger hunt. Or send pics to your network of the things you see on your walk. Walking isn’t just a good form of exercise – it can become an adventure, or a mindfulness exercise, or a chance to see other people in the flesh (and safely distanced).

Connect with your neighbours. Have a chat over the fence as you do your gardening or peg out the laundry. Or sit in your separate yards/driveways/balconies and just natter the afternoon away. Take note of any neighbours who live on their own and reach out to them. See if they need any assistance, groceries, someone to take the bins out, or most important of all, simple human interaction. It’s what we all need to get through this.

Immerse yourself. There are lots of online support/hobby/social/exercise groups that you can access from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can learn new things and meet new people without stepping out your door. And the beauty of online groups is they don’t even have to be in the same city, country or continent! Befriend Inc has created a handy guide to help you find and attend social groups online.

Send a care package. To someone you care about, or someone you know is having a difficult time. Send books, jigsaws, flowers, yummy food, a handwritten note. Anything that lets them know you’re thinking of them. It’ll be a lovely surprise and a boost for them, and for yourself. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way” – Mary Anne Radmacher.

Give thanks. Even though we’re tired, frustrated, anxious and sick of the stupid virus, there are still things to be thankful for. Taking time to reflect on these things helps us feel more positive and more fulfilled. Find out how you can become more grateful in your everyday life.

Volunteer your time and skills – from home. Volunteer work can be rewarding for yourself and your community. And there’s a lot of volunteer work that can be done online or remotely. So think about the types of things you’re passionate about, your skills, the amount of time you can give, and look around your local community to find the best match. Or visit GoVolunteer and search the database for volunteering opportunities.

Learn something new. There are so many organisations providing online learning courses, and many of them are free or low-cost. Just search online using your favourite search engine, and explore what’s available. Also, check out Laneway Learning, MOOCs (massive open online courses), TAFEs, colleges and community houses. You’ll come out of this pandemic with so much knowledge you’ll wow everyone at your next trivia night ?. And you’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people. Win-win!

Worship. Attending churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship with our family and friends isn’t an option for many people at the moment. The good news is that a lot of them are now online. Contact your place of worship or search online to see what events are being streamed and when. Gather with your extended family and friends virtually after worship to celebrate together.

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore




Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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