From June 13, people in England who live by themselves will be able to expand their network and form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household during the coronavirus pandemic.
It means people who live alone can now meet up with members of another household without having to follow social distancing rules. For example, an older person living alone can now receive visits from family members or friends who are in their support bubble. They can even move in with a family member or friend.
Once you have formed a support bubble with another household, you shouldn’t have close contact with anyone else you don’t live with. And if you or someone in your partner household is showing coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating, everyone should stay home.
The new rules do not yet apply if you are shielding. But from July 6, those shielding from coronavirus will be able to form a ‘support bubble’ with another household.
While this move will provide many older people with much-needed contact and support, others (such as those in care homes, or living far away from loved ones) will not be able to take advantage of the new guidelines.
Measures that are important to delay the spread of the virus, will still leave many people feeling isolated. According to a report from the Office for National Statistics, those aged 65 years and older are reporting the highest levels of anxiety during the crisis compared to other age groups.
Loneliness is already a huge problem for older people. Charity Age UK estimates that two million people in England over the age of 75 live alone. While more than one million say they can go for more than a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Research suggests the effects of loneliness and isolation can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Feeling lonely can be very distressing, especially right now when the global situation may also be making you anxious.
Try these tips to keep negative feelings at bay.
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1. Stick to a routine
Not being able to do your usual activities can be jarring, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a new routine for this temporary period.
Try and get up at the same time each day and plan the tasks that you’re going to do. These could include household chores, but make time to relax and for hobbies too. And don’t forget to eat three meals a day.
While it’s important to keep up to date with current affairs, constantly watching the news can increase feelings of anxiety. Try to only check it once a day and stick to reliable news sources such as the BBC, or use the NHS website for health advice.
2. Reach out to family and friends
Just because you can’t physically see your loved ones doesn’t mean you can’t stay in touch with them. There have never been more ways to communicate with friends and family.
Even a simple text or email can make a big difference. And while there are plenty of easy video-calling platforms you can try, a phone call with a loved one is just as delightful as it ever was. You could even write a letter to someone you haven’t spoken to for a while if you’re able to safely get to your nearest postbox. Just be aware that post is taking a little longer to reach the recipient at the moment.
3. Get active indoors
The best way to protect yourself and others from coronavirus is to stay at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Exercise can lift your mood, reduce stress and encourage the release of the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
There are home exercises you can do which focus on flexibility, strength and balance, and some can be carried out from a sitting position. There are also videos for simple indoor workouts on the NHS One You website. Sports England has also compiled a list of resources that may also help during this time.
4. Contact your neighbours
Getting to know your neighbours has perhaps never been more important. It can be really reassuring knowing there’s someone close by who can help you if you need support. Make sure you have up to date contact details for the people who live in the houses closest to yours. It might be worth putting a note with your telephone number through their letterbox.
You could also look to join social media platform Nextdoor, which will let you see who in your local area has made themselves available to help neighbours. There are lots of people willing to provide errands such as going to the shops on behalf of older people or those with underlying health issues.
5. Make new connections
This could turn out to be a great time to make new friends. As well as using social media to renew contact with old friends, there are also many specialist groups on Facebook for people to join.
- For example, if you enjoy gardening, the Which? Gardening Facebook group is a great way to chat online with other green-fingered enthusiasts.
6. Ask for help
Don’t suffer in silence if you’re experiencing loneliness. There are friendly volunteers you can have a chat with if you’re feeling isolated.
- For a cheerful chat, try Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90
- For practical information and advice, call Age UK: 0800 169 65 65
Age UK also has a befriending service called Call in Time. It’s a free telephone service for people over the age of 60. The charity will match you up with a like-minded person who’s keen to make a new friend. Each week, they will give you a call. It may take a little longer to match you to a volunteer at the moment, but it’s well worth signing up.
There are also a number of local volunteer initiatives that have been established around the country to support isolated people during the crisis such as The Community Action Response to COVID-19 and COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK.