During the pandemic we’ve either been thrust together or kept apart, (or a little of both) affecting us differently.
Lockdown has been tough for those with ordinarily busy social lives who thrive in the hustle and bustle of chatty pubs and loud music venues. Meanwhile, those with hectic family lives who’d usually cherish the peaceful space to themselves when the kids are at school and their partner is at work/the gym/the pub may have found the lack of occasional solitude difficult. Others already lonely may have felt worse; enforced social isolation exacerbating the pain of being alone. Indeed, headlines about a loneliness epidemic were circulating long before the pandemic caused loneliness statistics to rise.
Most of us have missed connecting with family members, having close friends over for laughter-filled night’s in or evening’s out at our favourite restaurants. Yet, simultaneously, our social stamina may have naturally dwindled due to a lack of opportunity to use our social skills.
Whatever the impact, lockdown has led us all to flex our connection muscles less than usual, causing them to fade somewhat.
As we emerge post-lockdown with permission to go “out-out” and socialise (or find pockets of solitude as family members venture out more) how do we make the most of both types of connection – social-connection and self-connection? How do we make our closest connections count as life gets busier? And how do we regenerate the social skills we’re out of practice using having been cocooned inside our homes?
Here are seven ways to make the most of existing social connections, develop meaningful new ones and foster a deeper connection with ourselves.
- Connect with the right people. Relationships can energize or drain us. So it’s worth considering how those already in our lives make us feel and focus on the quality rather than quantity of our connections. Consider who encourages you? Who is your cheerleader? Who makes you laugh and feel most at ease, able to be yourself? Equally, who winds you up and judges you? Auditing relationships doesn't mean cutting people from your life. Rather it can lead you to work on relationships, heal old wounds and consider your own patterns of response to create stronger connections. It can also give you a compass of common traits to look for when meeting new people.
- Practice listening well. If you want to be seen, heard and valued by others, you need to better see, hear and value others yourself. Maintain eye contact and stay present. Don’t spend the time planning what you want to say in response. Look directly at them instead of looking away at something that’s caught your eye or, even worse, at your phone.
- Learn to respond well. We generally know how to respond to people’s bad news –nodding and showing empathy, yet we may not have been taught how to respond to people’s good news with an ‘active constructive response’. It’s common to respond to good news with deflating questions, a distracted lack of enthusiasm or by shifting the focus away from the speaker towards yourself (passive destructive response). So an active constructive response is a great way to deepen connections. Try asking active memory questions which appeal to the speaker’s senses and encourage them to relive the experience. For example, you might say: ‘Wow! So how did you feel when she gave you that good news?’ Or: ‘That’s awesome! What did he say next?’
- Schedule uplifting activities with your closest friend(s). Ask friends what they loved doing when they were ten years old and whether they’d like to try it again, with you? This is a great way to reintroduce your friends to activities which spark joy in them and you’ll create cherished memories too. You might attend an evening watercolour class or a roller disco together? Or organize a seaside adventure to go rock-pooling or crabbing, if they loved to do that as a child?
- Synergize. When busy, consider ways you could fit multiple tasks into the same time period. List routine tasks, such as walking the dog, exercising, and shopping. Consider how you might synergize these tasks with connection. For example, you might need to take some parcels to the post office, walk the dog and have a long-overdue catch-up with a friend. Why not do all three at the same time – invite your friend over for a coffee, continue your chat as you walk (with the dog) to the post office.
- Volunteer your help. Volunteering can be a wonderful way to meet new people and feel part of a community working together for a good cause. Many volunteers are in the same boat and don’t know anyone else there either. What’s more, helping others has been proven to boost wellbeing levels and improve mental health.
- Balance social time with alone time. The positive power of solitude comes from the realization that solitude isn’t being by yourself; it’s being with yourself. When we see solitude as a place of retreat and renewal, we can more readily appreciate the time we get to spend alone, rather than fear and avoid it. Make two lists of nourishment. In the first list, write down self-care rituals and enjoyable activities you love to do – from painting to soaking in the bath and reading. On the second list, consider what sparks your interest. What would you love to learn or improve? List activities that would help you to grow as a person, such as listening to audiobooks, learning to play an instrument or planting a window box herb garden. Next time you find yourself alone, do something on your nourishment list and savour the solace of solitude.
For more practical guidance on creating meaningful connections, ensuring existing relationships are fulfilling and connecting with yourself so you can enjoy your own company, click here.