Sarah Kemp, AXA Health Physiologist

Supporting others when social distancing


8 April 2020

While circumstances prevent us from having close face-to-face contact with others, including our friends and family, it doesn’t mean having to lose contact altogether, particularly from those who may need our help. Instead, now is a good time to think about other ways of staying in touch, by increasing ‘virtual’ contact, to help make sure the health and emotional needs of those affected, including ourselves, are met every day.

What can I do to help someone?

This is likely to be a worrying time for all of us, but especially those in higher risk groups, such as the over-70s. It’s a time to talk to, and reassure, any older friends or relatives that keeping away from others is a great protective strategy for them and society as whole, and that it’s only temporary.

Some older people are hugely independent and may not want or feel they need support with things, especially if they’re active, technologically connected and otherwise able, but it can still feel like an isolating time. Talk through what’s being asked of them and work out alternative ways to adapt daily routines for the time being. This might mean ordering shopping online or you doing their shopping for them and leaving it on the doorstep so they don’t need to venture out, getting out in the garden a bit more instead of going for a stroll in the neighbourhood, or getting their daily newspaper delivered, for example.

If an older person is living alone it can be particularly worrying for them. Having no one else at home to talk to can magnify feelings of isolation, especially when normal routines like grocery shopping or socialising with friends are removed.

It’s also important at this time to talk to children about why they can’t see their grandparents. Explain that it’s about protecting everyone by avoiding spreading germs that could make their loved ones ill or compromise their immune system.

Asking for help is OK

Reassure others that asking for help or expressing worries or concerns is absolutely fine, they’re not being a burden and it really helps you to know what’s going on and how they’re feeling.

Don’t run out of supplies

Ask them to let you know when they’re running low on essential items, like toilet roll or soap, before they run out completely, so you can get them what they need in good time. Popping to the shops might not always be possible or practical, so it’s best not to leave shopping for urgent items till the last minute.

You could set up an online delivery of your own if you’re pushed for time or not able to get to the shops yourself but remember you will possibly need to allow time for this as supermarkets are experiencing higher demand for online orders.

Stay social, keep connected

People in self-isolation can still have significant contact with the outside world so they don’t feel alone. Encourage older friends or relatives to stay in touch by phone, and if they have the technological means, video calling can offer a greater degree of connectedness by allowing them to see one another, as they would if face-to-face. It may help to agree in advance some times to call each day, such as a morning or lunchtime check-in, and an evening catch up on their day.

Television radio and podcasts

The television can provide entertainment, as well as updates on news, though try not to watch too much as this can heighten anxiety around the situation. Why not use this time to find out what people’s favourite films or TV series are and watch them ‘together’ virtually, sharing your thoughts over the phone or video chat afterwards. Listen to the radio and podcasts to keep informed and enjoy something light hearted or something educational, if you fancy learning something new! Of course, it’s also nice to have some background noise playing during the day to keep you company.

Doing something new

If it’s a struggle to fill your time, try making a list at the start of the day as a helpful way to add some structure to your routine. If you’re not working at the moment, you could start something new at the same time as a friend or loved one and compare notes, or recommend something for those who are self-isolated to try. For example:

  • Cooking a new recipe, or baking some treats
  • Reading – starting a virtual book club is a positive way to stay connected
  • Listening to a podcast or audiobook
  • Puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku – great for keeping distracted and the mind active
  • Keep moving – there are some great fitness apps and workouts online to follow, from gentle mobility to living room workouts.
  • Getting creative – for example, drawing, knitting, writing, or trying a new craft.
  • Get a bird table or feeder and attract birds to your garden or windowsill. With nesting season coming the birds need food to feed their young. Why not start a record of the birds that visit.
  • The online world has lots to see and do, for example Google has virtual tours of galleries to go and visit here.

Fresh air

Encourage the person you’re supporting to open the doors or windows and get some fresh air through their home each day. Simply hearing birdsong can be uplifting.

If they have a garden, the spring weather is a great time to get out and do some gardening, or just enjoy the warm sunshine and a cup of coffee outside.

Staying active

Encouraging someone to keep as active as possible during the day is important so they get some movement in. We know that being active is important for our physical health and can be a real mood-booster too.

A walk around the house or garden every day will help, and even household chores count towards recommended daily activity levels. Being indoors can be physically restricting, especially for anyone used to going out walking or bike riding, but there are still things people can do to stay active.

Exercises can be done sitting or standing, Sport England has some great advice, or why not try one of our exclusive dynamic breathing workouts created by Founder of The Strength Temple, Richie Norton to boost body and mind.

Eat well

Eating healthy, nutritious food is also important to help maintain good health and it needn’t be complicated. Staying hydrated and keeping a balanced diet is important at any time, and try to include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whether tinned, frozen, or fresh, to ensure you’re getting essential nutrients. Take a look at our article for tips on developing healthy eating habits.


Someone who has to be on their own has a lot time to think about things and, during these unsettling and uncertain times might start to feel low, depressed, or anxious.

Listen and look out for changes in mood, such as anger, irritability, more negative talk or being withdrawn. Ask questions about how they feel and don’t avoid dealing with things. If you suspect that someone is struggling with their mental health, there are plenty of resources available to help.

These include:

  • the NHS website, who’s every mind matters pages include an action planner, which can help people understand their low mood
    • Age UK’s Your mind matters guide – written specifically for older people and their carers
    • Mind – the mental health charity provides lots of information and support to help anyone experiencing mental health problems. Tel 0300 123 3393
    • Samaritans Tel 116 123

Our articles on how to worry less and looking after yourself during self-isolation may also help.

In your neighbourhood

You may not have any relatives to support nearby, but if you have a neighbour who is isolated, then offer some help if you can – even small things count. Pop a note in the door and write your number for them to call or text you if they need anything or just for a friendly chat.

In times of difficulty, it’s more important than ever to look for out for others and try to help out where we can. We hope this has given you some ideas on how you can support someone who may be struggling during self-isolation from a distance and with the help of modern technology.

Further resources

Looking after yourself during self-isolation - AXA Health
How to stop worrying - AXA Health
7 steps to deal with loneliness – AXA Health
Self-care – AXA Health
Staying positive during adversity - AXA Health
Home workouts using everyday household objects – AXA Health
Age UK

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