It’s been great this week to see photos of friends and family on social media finally meeting with other friends and families again. As I scroll through the moments, with captions like “At last…”, “Together again…” and “Re-united…”, the predominant images are happy smiling faces. We’re not back to normal by any means, but it has been heartwarming.
At the park, in near arctic conditions (peculiar when just two days before we were queued up at an ice cream van in our t-shirts!), I watched pockets of people, shoulders huddled, thick coats zipped to the chin, hands cupping steaming take-away drinks, chatting and laughing. Kids on scooters were circling some of the groups, well wrapped up, faces glowing. All putting up with the discomfort of freezing fingers and numb toes to be with the people they’ve missed. I was moved and uplifted.
I love that there seems to be a real drive and determination to meet and re-connect with the people we’ve been prevented from seeing except via a two dimensional head and shoulders screen chat! We haven’t given up. We’ve missed them. We’re actively seeking ways of safely being together again.
Our human instinct to socially connect is so strong. Spending time with others is crucial for our development, happiness and health. We are social beings, and have a basic need to gather together, to share thoughts, opinions and ideas, to talk, to listen, and support. We know that a lack of social interaction over time is damaging, and can lead to a lower quality of life, loneliness, depression and illness, and a shorter lifespan.
Socialising releases positive hormones and makes us feel good, but for much of the last twelve months our socialising has been distant and watchful, anxious and frustrating. Now we can begin to re-connect, but although socialising is something we’ve always done, it’s perhaps not been quite as easy or natural as we might have expected. It’s been fantastic to see people that we haven’t seen for months, yes, but there’s a certain social awkwardness about it too.
How’s your re-socialisation going?
“Lovely but weird,” a friend commented recently, “Oh… and I think I’ve forgotten how to do it!” She added. She was half joking, but can we forget how to socialise? Interestingly, research shows that it doesn’t take long for the negative effects of disassociation and isolation to emerge, and being through lengthy lockdowns over this long period of time will have had an impact.
Some of this awkwardness stems from still being restricted – this isn’t normal socialising or socialising as we’ve done before. Distancing and masks can make us feel rude and constrained and we’ve become concerned with doorhandles and downstairs toilets. … things we wouldn’t have given a second thought to before. Arriving and leaving feels odd with no hugs of welcome or parting handshakes.
We are thinking much more about our meetings too, trying to ensure we are all comfortable and safe.We can’t be sure how everyone is feeling about being face to face again – we want to get it right for them and for ourselves. This takes mental energy and concentration and is strangely tiring. Some people say they’ve struggled to focus in groups bigger than we’ve recently been used to – others have had difficulty concentrating in conversations with people they haven’t seen for a while.
Something I’ve noticed is finding the right words – I don’t mean not knowing what to say, but literally, finding the word I want to use in the middle of a conversation! I’m chattering happily, halfway through a sentence, when without warning, the next word is gone. I’m momentarily adrift, gaping like a goldfish, hands gesturing overtime in an effort to conjure it up, eyes wide and staring, willing the other person to fill in. It’s like a sloth has momentarily taken charge of my mental dictionary… and then, ever so slowly the word is delivered and whoosh, I can continue on!
Reassuringly, when I mentioned this to some friends, they had experienced similar, and science shows that memory and recall can be affected by prolonged social inactivity. Interacting with others is really important to stimulate our brain and keep it functioning well.
We may not like living apart from others but our natural ability to adapt and readjust means we’ve become used to it, and we’re a bit out of touch with our social skills. It’s interesting isn’t it, that although socialising is something we’ve always done, we still need to keep those mental muscles exercising.
The good news is that these neurons are all still there ready to fire, we just haven’t used some of them for a while. Picking up our social lives may take some time but despite the “word-sloth” thing and the freezing weather… hasn’t it been good to talk to people face to face! Online was fine, but nothing can beat being with someone in person, and each time we do it, those mental muscles will strengthen.
Just as we adapted to lockdown so we will adapt to socialising again too. We can exercise and retrain those flabby social muscles. Anyway… I like sloths and maybe a bit of slowing down the chatter is a good thing!
And there’s something else too…
This last year has affected us all in different ways… we’ve been through a lot, some more than others. At its worst, people have feared for their health, been dangerously ill, or have lost loved ones. Our coping strategies will all have been different and re-emerging from that to socialise again will be different too.
Some people will have crammed their diaries with garden visits as soon as the dates were announced, others are taking it slowly. There might be fears, worries or apprehensions, and we have to acknowledge that we will all be socially awkward to some extent at the moment! At some point we will be allowed to have people back in our homes and that will be different again, but as someone said the other day, this stress is an enjoyable stress!
We just need to be patient, remembering to be kind to ourselves and mindful of others so that we can all readjust comfortably and happily at our own pace.
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us