We’re a not-for-profit collective that addresses social issues with a taboo at their heart. Let’s make change happen.
Reopening does not mean the same thing to everyone, and presents challenges and obstacles that are as distinct as those created by the pandemic. The possibility of socialising again may be exciting for some people, but equally it may seem daunting, risky or stressful to others. Whether someone has experienced loneliness during the pandemic or is feeling increasingly lonely at the thought of re-opening, it is important to consider that different circumstances and points of view make this a very challenging time for a lot of people, and part of being a good friend and neighbour is taking these circumstances into account in our interactions.
Here are five things to bear in mind as we begin to reconnect in person, and ways in which we show empathy and consideration towards those experiencing loneliness at this time:
Illustration by The Relationships Project
1) Respecting physical space
Hugs and handshakes were a regular part of daily life for most people prior to the pandemic, but we should not make assumptions about jumping straight back into unsolicited physical contact.
Check in with people before acting – everyone’s comfort levels are different, and it is worth asking what they are comfortable with right now. If you don’t feel ready, don’t be afraid to set the boundaries yourself by reaching out a fist or elbow for a bump or using body language to indicate you’d like to keep your distance.
Responding to social cues - some people may want physical contact to ease symptoms of loneliness, others may not
Seeking consent is an important way to make reconnections happy and meaningful.
2) Being flexible about social interactions
If a friend cancels or changes plans at the last minute, it might not be because they don’t want to see you. The journey back into socialising will be more daunting for some people than others.
Be prepared to adapt your plans – shorter meet-ups, mask-wearing and outdoor locations will help some people to be comfortable socialising
Ensure that some people aren’t left out
Being aware of other people’s comfort and being prepared to adjust your expectations are crucial right now.
3) Being mindful of those still shielding
There are still many people who remain required to shield for their own safety at this time, due to long term health conditions.
Stay in touch by phone and Zoom – don’t let these connections fall by the wayside.
Maintaining regular contact with a set day or time can be a positive way to support friends and neighbours who are shielding.
Seeing everyone else out and about may be difficult and distressing, factor this into your interactions and be sensitive.
4) Being aware of the potential for loneliness
Just because someone is out and about, it doesn’t mean they are not lonely. We know that being around people is not a guarantee that a person is not experiencing loneliness.
Foster microconnections - this can be as easy as stopping to chat with the postman, or asking your barista how their day is going. These small interactions can benefit both you and those you connect with. Continue to ask ‘how are you’, a simple question asked with genuine curiosity can go a long way to feeling more connected.
Get to know your local community, start by finding out the name of a new neighbour. Strong and healthy connections in your immediate space can do a lot to decrease feelings of isolation.
Physical proximity is not the same as feeling a meaningful connection, and loneliness may be more difficult to spot now that we are back socialising again.
5) Put your phone away
As a society, we became even more dependent on technology during lockdown than we had been – waiting for the buzz of a Zoom call or the ping of WhatsApp, and these tools were critical in helping to keep us connected at this tremendously difficult time. However, when you are socialising in person technology can have the opposite effect.
Don’t check your phone when you’re out with a friend as it can make you come across as disengaged and absent, which may make them feel lonely as well as reduce the benefits you yourself get from interaction.
When you meet someone face-to-face, it is good practice to put your phone away completely and focus your energy on the person or people around you.
Giving someone your full attention will make them feel listened to and engaged with, it will make the interaction feel more meaningful and combat any feelings of loneliness that they may have.