- You’re probably not used to being around groups of people right now, and that’s completely expected over a long period of isolation
- One therapist has tips for easing yourself back into social interactions
After weeks – or even months – of holing up at home, many of us are just waiting for the day things go back to normal. But what happens if life does not return to the way it was when Covid-19 restrictions ease on April 21 – if it actually becomes a reality? Belinda Lau, the principal therapist at The Lighthouse Counselling explains why some of us might be feeling apprehensive about jumping back into our social routines.
Since friendship networks shrink during periods of strict Covid-19 restrictions, people tend to fall out of the habit of socialising.
“It has already been difficult for teens to meet new friends and establish strong, solid friendships because of the many extended school closures since the start of the pandemic,” Lau said. She added that it did not help that as soon as they had the chance to reconnect with old friends, the city was hit by a new wave of Covid, forcing them to once again move their interactions online.
Lau explained that it is not unusual for people to get used to the idea of staying at home so much so that it can be unnerving to think about being around people again. She shared that prolonged periods of social distancing can shrink our social comfort zone, causing us to feel uneasy about returning to regular activities that require interacting with others.
Some of us might even choose to isolate ourselves when restrictions ease. “This can lead to feelings of loneliness and eventually social awkwardness, in which one completely avoids talking to or interacting with people, or even shuns away from in-person or online activities altogether.”
Findings from a study published in 2020 on the psychological consequences of social isolation during Covid-19 revealed that long periods of spending time alone, combined with reduced social connections, increases the likelihood of a person developing depressive symptoms.
“This results in a vicious cycle in which we behave in ways that reflect these symptoms, which often translates to social awkwardness,” Lau said.
According to the therapist, common physical signs of social awkwardness include avoiding eye contact, heart palpitations, uncontrollable trembling or shaking, and feelings of nausea. If the condition is left unaddressed, it could lead to potential long-term mental health issues such as excessive worry, depression and acute loneliness.
Thankfully, most of us only require some practice to snap right back into our normal routines. But rather than scrambling to fill up your social calendar with brunches and celebrations, only to feel overwhelmed by the number of meet-ups you have committed yourself to, Lau suggested making use of this time to take stock of your existing friendships.
“Rediscover, replenish and revive existing friendships … The pandemic has given us the opportunity to re-evaluate our lives,” she said, adding that it is much easier to ease back into in-person activities with this group of people.
Not surprisingly, strong bonds fostered online translate into in-person friendships. Lau recommended maintaining a routine of social online catch-ups as well as joining “hobby centric” online groups such as book or film clubs, or communities that organise trivia games.
If you are unsure of how you might feel about spending time with certain groups of friends, consider scheduling shorter meet-ups or including a fun activity or sport. It is also perfectly fine to let others know that you might need some time to get used to being around a group of people again.
Most importantly, do not give up if a social interaction does not seem to go your way. Rather than avoiding awkward moments, embrace the fact that many of us are also rethinking our definition of a normal social routine.