Loneliness lessons and COVID-19

Working in isolation, with no one around in the lab, having social media as the only way to connect to my family and friends, trying my best to focus on the work while the feelings of loneliness and anxiety kept building up at the back of my mind – that's how it was back in 2012 when I was an international student during my first few months of pursuing a PhD in Australia.

Right now the Coronavirus situation has brought back those memories. I cannot imagine the plight of the international students in Australia right now. I didn't have to worry about the financial situation, losing job, the uncertainty of immigration status and closures of international borders.

Dr Muneera Bano, overall winner of the 40-under-40 Asian Australian Awards 2019

Though I had been through many tough times before having experienced certain events growing up in Islamabad. I have very vague memories of being a preschool child observing the Ojhri Camp incident in 1988 without understanding the seriousness of what was going on; I clearly remember the devastating earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan and the destruction it brought for millions; and the pain and trauma I experienced after the suicide bomb attack on my university in 2009 and attending funerals of students who were killed in that incident. Every new disruptive event brings back memories of the past, but also the stories of the struggle, fight and survival.  

Life never was the same after any of those events. The world for those impacted, changes forever. Adaptability was the key to survival. The most important aspect of all those events was I was next to my family and friends who were there for me when I needed them. That's what couldn't kill me, made me more resilient.

Now I find myself in a challenging situation. I am without any family in Australia and due to social distancing and self-isolation rules, I cannot be with my friends anymore, I am having more déjà vu moments from my time being an international student. 

I am trying to remember how I coped with the difficult situations in the past.

Lessons for loneliness 

Image Credit: Muneera Bano, via LinkedIn

There were a few key lessons I learnt and they are still useful in the current phase of loneliness that a lot of people are feeling right now.

1. Know your purpose

The sense of purpose is always a critical factor in helping to cope with uncertain, hard and unprecedented situations. It makes all hardships bearable when you know clearly WHY you are doing something. Being away from home and family was a decision I made in pursuit of education. That helped me in keeping myself motivated in every hard situation.

2. Take it one day at a time

Not everyday you feel on top of things. There are ups and downs and that's how life is. It's fine if you are not feeling motivated and things don't seem to be going your way. Take a break. This day will end and another will start. 

3. Keep busy

Keeping yourself busy and being in action helps in distracting from things that are not in your control. Being busy will not leave time for worrying thoughts to occupy your mind. Doing small and simple achievable tasks will help to boost your motivation.

4. Helping others

Helping someone has a therapeutic effect, even if it is just by words. Try to lift someone's spirit who is not feeling good today. Give them hope. It will lift your mood and give you a positive energy for your day. Hope is infectious and giving someone hope is an empowering experience.

5. Put your miseries in perspective

There are always those who are in far worse situations than yours. Try to look at the bigger picture. This will help you in broadening your perspective. Be appreciative for what you have and stop thinking about what you don’t have and what’s not in your control.



Dr Muneera Bano is ais a senior lecturer of software engineering from the Deakin University. She was the overall winner of the under-40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Award in 2019. She is an Ambassador at #GoGirlGo4IT, a software engineer , academic, speaker, and member of the equity diversity & inclusion committee at STA. 

This piece was originally published on LinkedIn.