For the best part of over a year, we’ve not been in physical contact with many people, some have had no contact at all. But our relationships with others are essential for our wellbeing, so as restrictions begin to ease, how can we comfortably reconnect?
From friends and family, to colleagues, dating and small moments of communication with people in shops, restaurants and more, each of these has a role in creating a circle of healthy relationships around us. However, this has been significantly affected by Covid-19. All work meetings were held over Zoom, we couldn’t read facial expressions through masks, birthday presents were chucked over garden fences and meeting for a first-date coffee turned into separate Deliveroo orders and a Facetime.
One thing is for sure… we’re going to have to re-adjust (again!) and go back to basics with how we socialise.
Everyone’s social life is different and it’s important to remember factors such as culture, personal circumstances and where you live will all play a part in how you return to some kind of “normal”. But, when it comes to our relationships with others, it’s likely that they’ll be some shared experiences.
Life is Different
We’re so used to change by now, we could all add “Transformation Manager” to our CVs to cover 2020-21. We know restrictions will lift but potentially change again and we know it will be dependent on where we live and what exactly we’ll be ‘doing’.
But, what about changes in our personal lives and the lives of those we care about?
Covid-19 brought about significant change and our relationships changed too – with ourselves and those around us. As we all adapted to new circumstances, it affected our lives and unfortunately, not always for the better. Sadly, you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who in the last year has not lost a loved one, their job, gone through a separation or struggled with their mental health.
Equally, change can leave people feeling anxious and understandably many people reached for joy where they could, investing in themselves and their relationships. Do you know anyone who has not recently got engaged, married, moved house, changed careers, taken up a new interest, is having a child or sometimes… all of the above?
With all these life transitions that usually happen at a slower more manageable pace, people’s relationships to one another will inevitably change with them. It’s likely your priorities have shifted and your friends, family and colleagues’ will have too.
Perhaps this means your friends won’t be as available as they used to be, your loved ones may now have less or no disposable income or your colleagues are more stretched and need some additional support in work. It might also be that suddenly your friend who’s going through a separation has all their weekends free but you’re busy looking after a new-born, renovating your house or have additional caring responsibilities.
For healthier, happier relationships and to re-connect with people, we need to remember that our lives won’t always transition at the same pace or in the same ways. If we can meet others where they are at and ask for the same in return, we’ll be able to pick up where we left off or re-build in a new way with those we care about.
Has anyone else forgotten how to talk to people in person?
Communicating with others can be a skill we take for granted, not just with our close friends and family, but with people we don’t really know. Daily interactions with people such as ordering a drink from a waiter, sending a package at the post office, an in-person doctors appointment or even giving someone directions requires cognitive processing, eye contact, facial gestures and more.
When we haven’t been doing much of this for over a year, it is possible to forget things that once were second nature to us. We’re also having to be on higher alert and more aware of our surroundings – “Am I 2 meters away from that person?... They’re standing too closely… I’ll get my hand sanitiser out before I go in… Where did I put my mask?“.
Not to mention if you’ve taken the steps to go out for drinks or food, you’ll notice that you need to “check in” via an app, scan ‘ordering’ and ‘menu’ codes and more often than not, repeatedly enter your details. For some people, this is at worst a bit annoying, but for some who are not as digitally literate or find this quite anxiety-inducing, it may take a bit more time. Not only have we had to increase our digital skills whilst staying at home, now the world is a little more open, we’re going to have to use them out and about too.
As we all adapt, we can look after ourselves and those around us by being kind, patient and flexible when adhering to guidelines. In time, we’ll all pick up the skills and interactions we once took for granted.
Social Fatigue & Anxiety
Saving a big one until last… the extra energy it takes to do things that we once considered “normal” and the impact this has on our health.
Many have realised that due to numerous lockdowns, spending more time at home and having limits on what our bodies and brains can engage with, something like doing a weekly food shop can feel more tiring than we’d expect. The same goes for our social interactions – as we haven’t been connecting to people regularly in the same way, when we do it can feel, well… exhausting.
Like anything, socialising takes time and energy and this social fatigue is normal under the circumstances.
For the social butterflies, seeing people multiple times a week and packing your calendar filled with events might seem exciting at first, but after the first week or so it can be unsustainable. It’s normal to feel exhausted doing very little right now and it will take time for our physical and mental energies to catch up with what we might want our lives to be like.
In these cases – remember to pace yourself. It can be temping to book a big family weekend of activities, but if you do this, maybe make sure the next day is just for relaxing. Create boundaries for yourself, ease back into things slowly and have patience that you’ll get back to a version of your life you love in time.
On the other side, for some of us, returning to “normal” might seem very daunting. We’ve become used to one way of living, adapted to survive and now suddenly… we have things to ‘do’ and people to ‘see’. Now we can go out, some people in our lives might expect us to – not only might we not have the energy, we might not be comfortable too do certain things yet. And that’s ok.
It’s important to return to socialising in a way that feels right for you and it can help to communicate how you’re feeling about this with your loved ones so you can manage their expectations. It can also be useful to remember that just because you’re comfortable with something, it doesn’t mean your friends, family or colleagues are. Remember to check in with what works for others and be willing to adapt. For example, you might have a friend who feels anxious about going for lunch indoors. Could you suggest lunch, or even just a coffee in an outdoor venue? Respect how they are feeling and work with yourself and those you care about to taking steps at a comfortable pace.
In general, the above three things are not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination. We’re operating in un-chartered territory; everyone is having a unique experience and we have numerous hurdles to jump.
However, if we can be aware of the challenges we might face and adapt accordingly, our resilience will increase and moving at a comfortable pace can help to reduce anxieties.
Finally… remember to enjoy it! Everyone has had a difficult year or so and these parts of ourselves and connections to others we’re starting to get back should in the longer-term, help us feel energised and supported. So – do what feels right for you where you can.