Being apart from friends and colleagues can be hard, and with over a quarter of the New Zealand workforce now working from home now, feelings of loneliness and isolation are becoming more common.
So, whether you’re working from home – or just working differently – here’s what you can do to feel connected again.
What makes us feel lonely
Loneliness and social isolation have long been around, but these feelings have become even more challenging for New Zealanders since the outbreak of COVID-19. The need for physical distancing measures during the pandemic has meant that rather than gathering around the lunch room to chat with colleagues, we’re now connected via computer screens.
“What makes us feel lonely is a perceived lack of quality connections in our life,” says Sabina Read, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist. “Loneliness is not about how many connections or relationships you have or don’t have, but it’s about the quality of those relationships. We are finding that during COVID people are feeling lonely and socially isolated because there’s not as many opportunities for meaningful exchanges.”
The impact of feeling lonely or socially isolated
Without as many chances for meaningful connection, we can feel sad, unmotivated, ‘heavy’, withdrawn or teary. “We are hardwired to connect with other people, but due to the pandemic we have been forced out of our work tribes,” Read says. “But there is still a lot we can do to connect and foster those relationships in our social network.”
How to handle feelings of loneliness
Everyone has felt lonely at some stage in their life, but your previous experiences can be really valuable in helping you navigate feelings of social isolation. Here are three things you can try:
- Seek out opportunities to connect
“It may take a little more effort than before but it’s important you look for ways to connect with your colleagues and peers,” Read says. “You can do this in a number of ways – like setting up an online channel for sharing non-work news, having quick, regular virtual check-ins or asking questions about what people find easy or challenging about working from home.”
- Tell someone
While you may feel unsure about sharing your feelings, you’re definitely not alone in this.
“One of the positive things to come out of the pandemic is that everyone is in the same boat,” Read says. “So, if you tell your boss, colleagues or friends you’re feeling isolated, it’s likely they will have experienced those feelings too and will understand.”
- Draw on your experience
When we feel lonely or socially isolated, sometimes it seems like it’s new territory to navigate, but most of us already have the tools we need to manage these emotions.
“We’ve all had times of feeling lonely, so think about what you did to manage those feelings in the past,” Read says. “Some people are helped by going for walks and making eye contact with people and saying hello, others like to speak to a friend or colleague and some people reduce their feelings of isolation by doing something nice for another person.”
The key to combating loneliness at work is making small efforts to connect with others on a regular basis. It can be helpful to remember that loneliness and isolation aren’t fixed states, but rather feelings that will ebb and flow.
By thinking of these emotions as a reminder or sign that we’re hungry for connectedness, we can start trying strategies to combat these feelings and find that sense of connection again.
The situation around COVID-19 can bring up difficult feelings and emotions, but you don’t have to handle them alone. If you’re finding things tough at the moment, there’s support available to help you. The Mental Health Foundation has a range of information especially for the pandemic as well as numbers you can call, and the Minstry of Health has tools and resources that relate to COVID-19 and more.
Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually.