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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.

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18/Mar/2021

Dealing with pain, isolation and loneliness

When you’re unwell or in pain – both physical and emotional – it’s natural to want to shut out the world and retreat to the cosy safety of your ‘cocoon’.

For me it’s either my bed or the couch, soft, warm clothes, the doona if it’s cold and something mindless on the TV. I shut everything out and stay in my cocoon until I’m feeling ready to face the world again.

This is my safe place, where I can minimise the risk that anything will exacerbate my pain or make me feel worse – because if I can’t control the pain, at least I can control my environment.

I’m not alone in this behaviour. It’s a common thing to do, especially when you live with a chronic condition and pain.

In our recent report: Making the invisible visible: Australians share the impact of musculoskeletal conditions on their lives people revealed that:

  • they tended to keep to themselves and not contact friends and family when they’re feeling unwell – 64%
  • their ability to socialise with friends and family was impacted by their condition – 66%
  • their condition impacted their ability to participate in family events and activities – 35%
  • they couldn’t make firm commitments to socialise – 45%
  • they often needed to cancel plans due to their condition – 39%.

These findings highlight that living with the unpredictability of a musculoskeletal condition can significantly affect the social fabric of people’s lives.

Did you know: social isolation can have negative effects on our health? Research has shown that people who become isolated and experience loneliness are at increased risk of developing depression, having poor sleep, decreased immune function, poor cardiovascular health and impaired executive function.

So while retreating to your cocoon can be a soothing and healing thing to do for short periods of time, it can potentially be harmful if you do it for too long and become cut off and isolated.

Why do we become isolated?

Pain and fatigue – these are the two big ones. When you can barely drag yourself out of bed, and the just thought of showering sounds exhausting, getting dressed and catching up with people can seem like an insurmountable challenge.

Mental and emotional health – when you’re not feeling like your usual self and feel sad, depressed, anxious or down, it can affect your ability or willingness to make the effort to be social.

Losing touch or connection with friends and family – we lose touch with people for a variety of reasons. But sadly sometimes we lose touch with people because we have to cancel or postpone plans when we’re not feeling well. And because of the unpredictable nature of musculoskeletal conditions this can often happen at the last minute. If someone doesn’t know what it’s like to live with a chronic condition they may find this frustrating and difficult to understand. As one person stated in our survey: “the worst part is they are invisible conditions so people can’t understand unless they’ve had it.”

COVID-19 hasn’t helped – physical distancing, lockdowns, closed borders and feeling vulnerable at the thought of being exposed to a new virus, especially if you already have a weakened immune system, has made many of us feel more isolated.

Emerging from the cocoon

But we’re social creatures and we need the interaction with others, even when we’re in pain. So we need to ensure that we emerge from our safe, secure cocoons before isolation becomes a problem. Here are some tips to help.

Know yourself – we all live with different musculoskeletal conditions and health conditions. And they affect us physically, mentally and emotionally in differing ways. That means you’re the best person to judge how much time alone is good for you, and how much is detrimental. So know your limits.

Be honest with your important peeps – most people don’t know what it’s like to live with pain, or brain fog or energy-sapping fatigue. So be open and honest with your family and close friends. Let them know why you sometimes need to cancel plans, or why you sometimes need time alone to recharge. Don’t downplay how you’re feeling or make excuses. Just be honest.

Do things on your terms – if you’re feeling fragile and your cocoon (aka couch) is beckoning, think about how you can still interact with your people, but on your terms.

  • Invite them to your house – for a coffee and chat, or get some yummy food delivered and have a meal together. And don’t worry if your home is untidy. Your people are there to see you, not your space. Just enjoy the time together.
  • Call or have a video chat – you can do that from the comfort of your home. And COVID has taught us that as long as your top half is respectable, no one can see that you’re wearing flannelette pajama pants covered in rubber ducks.
  • Go to a venue or on an outing that suits your symptoms, pain levels and how you’re feeling. Go to the local café, watch the latest blockbuster at the cinema, go for a slow meander in the park and find a park bench to sit and chat. Whatever works best for you.

Acknowledge the important people in your life – set alerts on your phone or mark the dates in your diary. Contact them on the important days in their life – birthdays, anniversaries, starting a new job, Tuesdays. By setting up alerts, or having regular days and times to call, you’re less likely to miss the important life events we all hold dear, or fall out of touch. And it means that even if you have a foggy brain at times, you won’t miss those dates.

The power of pets – having a furry, feathered or scaled companion or two can help you feel less isolated, especially if you live on your own. Their presence gives you a reason to get out of bed every day as they’re depending on you for food, water, exercise and cuddles. And they’re just so cute and comforting. They also give you something in common with the other 61% of Australians who own a dog, cat, fish, bird, snake, hamster, lizard…that’s a lot of people you could potentially talk with – in person or online – about a shared love of animals.

Connect with others – we get a lot of our human connections and friendships through work, sporting clubs, book clubs, volunteering, parents groups etc. So try and keep these connections going, even if you’re not feeling 100%. Along with the connections of those nearest and dearest to us, they add a diverse, richness that makes life so interesting. And if you’re not involved in any groups or clubs, consider joining one. Now’s the perfect time as a lot of them are meeting online because of COVID. It gives you a chance to dip your toe in the water and see what the group is like, from the comfort of your home.

Look after yourself – Ok, you’ve made it out the door and you’ve been having a lovely time with friends. But you can feel your back starting to hurt. A lot. Uh-oh…what to do? Don’t ignore it. Whip out any of your trusty pain management techniques that you know work for you…such as stretching, walking, taking your medications, using a heat pack, distraction, moving. Whatever works for you (obviously this will depend on where you are and what facilities you have access to). The point is, by taking action you’ll hopefully nip the worst of the pain in the bud. It also means that you were able to enjoy time with friends – despite your pain.

Cherish your alone time – this may sound weird after pushing you out the door, but it’s important that we all take some time out when we need it. It gives you the time you need to relax, rest, recharge and reset.

“Humans are social beings, and we are happier, and better, when connected to others.” – Paul Bloom

However sometimes our condition can make socialising difficult and even painful. But if you’re prepared and you know yourself and your limits, you’ll be in a good position to enjoy the rich, wonderful connections that make life so satisfying.

“The struggle to leave the cocoon is what strengthens the butterfly’s wings so she can fly. I am about to become something beautiful.” Tricia Stirling.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like 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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30/Apr/2020

Have you noticed how many more people seem to be out and about – in the shops, on the road, walking in the park? And even though restrictions haven’t changed yet, many seem to have become a bit more relaxed when it comes to their activities and physical distancing?

While many of you have self-isolated in the past because of your musculoskeletal condition or other health reasons, what we’re all experiencing now is unprecedented. And for it to go on this long, with only a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, it’s no wonder we’re all going a little stir crazy.

There may be many reasons for this:

  • In Australia we’ve done exceptionally well at flattening the curve. But that means most of us don’t know anyone affected by COVID-19. So the virus doesn’t seem quite real to a lot of us.
  • We started iso thinking it was a chance to do the odds jobs, hobbies, reading, Marie Kondo-ing your space etc. And we’ve either done all of those things, or we’ve realised there was a reason we didn’t do them in the first place – we don’t want to! So now we’re getting a bit bored.
  • Decisions are being made that affect our lives, our families, our work and finances. And most of the time we have no say in these decisions. So we feel out of control.
  • The reality of home schooling, the chaos of everyone working from home, the isolation of being cooped up in your house alone, the constant internet and tech issues, fighting for space, the endless baking of banana bread…we’re over it.
  • We’re social beings, but we’re having to make do with virtual almost everything. But phone and video calls can’t compete with or replace the face-to-face connections with our family and loved ones. We want and miss our physical interactions.
  • All of the restrictions are a bit confusing – especially since every state/territory has their own specific set. So we’re confused, and a little jealous of the areas that are slowly easing restrictions.
  • We just want things to return to normal.

But we really need to adhere to the restrictions in our state/territory.

It’s hard. But we’re up for the challenge. So when you start getting a bit itchy or grumpy or frustrated, here are some things you can do:

  • Remember why we’re doing this. Think of the health system and the frontline workers and essential services. Think of the vulnerable in our society (which may indeed be you or someone you care about).
  • Remember there are outliers. People have become very seriously ill or have died from this virus for reasons we don’t understand. There are still so many unknowns when it comes to COVID-19 – so not following the advice from our health officials will put you and others at risk.
  • Check the restrictions relevant to you. Visit the website of your state/territory health department so you know what you need to be doing.
    Australian Capital Territory
    New South Wales
    Northern Territory
    Queensland
    South Australia
    Tasmania 
    Victoria 
    Western Australia
  • Stick to your routine. Get up at the same time each day. Exercise regularly. Eat healthy meals. Plan time for fun and creative things you can do in and around your home.
  • Connect with others. Yes, we’re getting sick of our phones and computers (who thought they’d ever say that ??) but they’re the safest way for us to connect with the people important to us. So do it. Pick up the phone or get on your computer and make a call. Talk about anything other than the virus. Reminisce about fun times, silly things you’ve done together, jokes you’ve heard. It’s a great way to give yourself a lift when you’re feeling down. Contact the people you know are on their own and may be struggling. See how they’re doing and if you can help in any way. I know I keep saying it, but we really are in this together.
  • Set yourself a challenge or goal. It may involve looking after your health – e.g. exercising 30 minutes a day 5 days a week – or getting your finances in order, or starting an evening book club with the kids, or scheduling time each day to meditate/read/listen to music/relax, or plant a vegie garden, or doing that 3,000 piece jigsaw…Think of something you really want to do. Not the things you thought of at the start of iso, but something that seems more relevant to you 2 months into isolation – and set yourself the challenge to do that. If you encounter obstacles, that’s fine. Look for ways to manage them and move on.
  • Ignore the social media posts from the people who seem to be achieving amazing things during iso. You know the ones…they’ve learned a language, repainted their house, started a successful online business and written a book – all while working full time and home schooling 5 children under the age of 5. What a load of rubbish. Remember we generally use social media to present ourselves in the best light – it’s not always an accurate representation of what’s really happening. So take these posts with a grain of salt, or stop following them all together. It’s pointless comparing your situation with someone else’s. And it can make you feel stressed or inadequate, so try not to do it. You’re doing the best you can – so be kind to yourself.
  • Remember this will end.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain 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.




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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