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There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. If all goes to plan with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and lower infection rates, we should be able to spend more time with our friends and family soon.

We may even be able to have a somewhat normal summer!

While this is amazing news, I’m still wondering whether I’ll even remember how to socialise and make meaningful connections. I’ve found myself mulling over these questions:

  • Will my relationships be the same?
  • Will I need to rebuild ties with people I haven’t seen in over a year?
  • Will I choose to end some relationships that no longer serve me?
  • Will I be motivated to build new relationships?
  • How will I feel being in crowded spaces?

Have we lost our ability to connect?

The answers to the above questions may be different depending on whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

I imagine that extroverts are bursting to go out and surround themselves with people again. (Extroverts: please correct me if I’m wrong!)

As I live in a household full of shy introverts – myself included – I’ve had a glimpse of what it might be like for people in that category.

I can already see the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on my two teenagers, who have barely left the house in over a year. I thought they’d be thrilled when they found out about going back to school, but no.

Whereas six months ago they seemed to be itching for some personal interaction, they now seem to have reached a point of no return. Boredom and frustration have been replaced by apathy.

They sit in their rooms all day long, staring at screens with the curtains drawn. At their ages, they should be out making mischief and pushing boundaries!

As for us adults, Zoom has replaced all aspects of our lives, from work to cocktails. I generally try to avoid online video calls unless absolutely necessary, but in retrospect, this may have made me withdraw further into myself. 

I really noticed this recently when I was interviewed on some podcasts that were being recorded via Zoom. Apparently, I’ve lost the ability to speak in full sentences while also looking at somebody. And that’s just online.

The prospect of getting out there and socialising in person again feels doubly daunting.

Is anyone else experiencing this newfound social anxiety?

I do miss seeing my friends and family. But when somebody asks me whether I want to go for a walk, I hesitate. I feel anxious about having to avoid all those other people in the park. Wouldn’t it just be easier to have a text conversation via WhatsApp?

When I think about going shopping for “non-essential” items like clothes and shoes – something I’ve always enjoyed in the past – I can’t really see the point anymore. I’d just be navigating all the other shoppers. Why do that when I can order everything online?

I even get tense when I watch people on TV who are casually mingling in close proximity, without masks. What the hell is going on here?

Tips for easing yourself back into normal life

When it comes to connecting and social interaction, I think we’re in a “use it or lose it” situation.

Humans are naturally social creatures and even we introverts need to be around other people sometimes. In fact, research shows that the quality and quantity of your social relationships can impact your health.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems. By neglecting our need to connect, we put our health at risk.”  

It may take some time to re-learn your social skills and feel comfortable in a social setting again, and that’s OK. It’s been quite a difficult year – be kind to yourself. Here are some tips for starting off on the right foot:

  • Focus on quality over quantity in relationships. Surround yourself with people who you can totally be yourself around. Those people will understand if you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to take “resocialisation” slowly. Life’s too short to spend time nurturing inauthentic relationships.
  • Avoid energy vampires – you know the type! Some people can really drain your emotional energy and negatively affect your wellbeing. They’re good at taking but not so good at giving. If you can’t stay away from them, it’s important to set clear boundaries and let them know you’re not available for them 24/7. You’ve got you’re own shit to deal with.
  • Push yourself outside of your comfort zone sometimes. Challenge yourself to try something different each day or every couple of days. This will help you build up a tolerance to being in new situations again. 
  • Don’t say ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’. You can decline an invitation with kindness and compassion. If it’s a social situation, you could say something like: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m afraid I can’t.” No further explanation is needed. If it’s a request from a colleague, this works well: “I wish I could help with your project, but I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.”

One more thing as you embark on your return to normality:

In the rush to get back to normal, use this time to decide which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

How do you feel about getting back to normal life? What changes would you make? Let me know in the comments!

 

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