We haven’t seen our friends in such a long time. We miss them. A lot.
Since the start of the pandemic and the seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns, we have had to get creative with our socialising. Drinks on Zoom, video catch-ups and talking via tech has become the norm.
But as we all struggle to stay afloat during what is arguably the toughest lockdown yet, we have noticed that keeping in touch with our friends is becoming harder and harder.
Suddenly, replying to all your different WhatsApp group chats seems stressful and impossible. The thought of a quick phone chat after work fills you with dread. You’re finding excuses to wriggle out of that Zoom girls night with your uni mates.
It’s almost as though the longer we are in this state of enforced isolation, the harder it becomes to maintain those points of connection. Staying socially engaged right now feels emotionally draining, but losing connection with our vital support systems could be really bad for our mental health.
So, why are so many of us feeling like this? Why have notifications and video call invites suddenly become such a heavy burden?
Life coach Sam Adams says it’s because digital communication is now the only option – and at a certain point it just becomes too much for our brains to handle.
‘When we reach our limit, we switch off because we become overwhelmed,’ explains Sam. ‘That naturally leads us to effectively stop and do less, because we just can’t cope.’
She also says she is noticing that many more people struggle especially when it comes to talking on the phone.
‘An actual phone call involves focus and proper engagement,’ says Sam.
‘The power of voice too is incredible, so whilst in a text message you can hide to a certain degree, with your voice alone it is very hard to hide you true self and your feelings. Maybe that vulnerability is why some people struggle with calls.’
It could also come down to a simple over-saturation.
With homeschooling, Zoom meetings, working from home an spending more time watching TV – screens have become a much bigger part of our daily lives. So when our social lives are conducted through screens as well, it can all become too draining.
‘By human nature, we tend to thrive and receive energy from face-to-face connections,’ says Psychologist, author and therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari.
‘It is how we recharge ourselves and it gives us a sense of emotional connection, which is a basic need.
‘This emotional connection is lacking online and on screens, so it can feel like more effort. We aren’t able to feed off people’s body language, eye contact and expressions, so we don’t get the same sense of being energised. It can become more of an item on our to-do list, as opposed to an enjoyable activity.’
Additionally, Dr Kalanit says the fact that so many people are struggling at the moment – mentally, physically and financially – may mean they want to shut themselves away.
‘Some may feel that they don’t want to share these worries so as not to burden their close ones,’ she explains. ‘On the other hand, hearing about other’s struggles can be overwhelming for ourselves.
‘In some cases, there can be a breakdown in connection and communication when people disapprove of their friend’s decisions to break the lockdown rules. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that it is a challenging time and that people manage it in the best way they can.
‘Try to avoid any judgement and recognise that everyone faces their own choices – address the issue in a way that is honest but compassionate and respectful.’
The problem with losing connection with friendship groups at a time like this is that it often sets off a negative spiral.
You don’t speak to your friends because you feel anxious and low, and then you continue to feel anxious and low precisely because you’re not speaking to your friends. It can be hard to break this chain.
‘The potential impact of this is primarily loneliness,’ says Dr Kalanit.
‘When we have a sense of separation or we feel isolated with our own problems, worries and grief, we tend to feel a sense of loneliness, which can influence our mental health and wellbeing.
‘Loneliness has been shown to lead to depression and increased levels of anxiety, so this is a potential risk when feeling this way.’
On top of this, it’s common to feel a huge sense of guilt if you’re not keeping on top of your social interactions. If you feel bad for not contacting your friends, you might worry that you will lose the friendship, or that people will change their opinion of you.
If you’re feeling like this – it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. And also that your friends will likely understand, they may even be going through a similar thing themselves.
How to cope if you’re struggling
Firstly, Dr Kalanit says you should try to normalise and acknowledge the feelings that you’re having. She says it is normal to feel like this, and many people feel the same way, so you should show compassion towards yourself.
Tell people how you feel
Even if it’s just a text to say that you won’t be texting for a while, hearing from you will likely make you and your friends feel better.
‘I would advise anyone who feels lonely or isolated to initiate conversations with friends or family,’ Dr Kalanit adds.
‘Authentically share your feelings and concerns with them and be open with them when you feel overwhelmed. Explain to them what support you would like to help you feel better – it might be meeting up to exercise outdoors together, family game nights or workouts together over Zoom.
‘If you’re able to incorporate a sense of routine with these connections then this will be even better, it means you are more likely to fulfil them.’
Where possible, meet face to face
‘At the time of writing, it is permitted to exercise with one other person in an outdoor setting, so do this if possible,’ says Dr Kalanit.
‘Take a walk or a jog together, amidst nature if you can, because this face-to-face connection will help you to feel energised. In addition, movement, exercise and being in nature helps to clear your mind of noise and allows you to be present in the moment.’
Trim your social media following
Dr Kalanit also suggests disconnecting from people you don’t personally know on social media – unless you really feel that they really energise you.
‘This will free some of your time for nurturing connections with your close ones,’ she explains.
Build conversations into your day
‘Try to incorporate conversations with your friends and family into your day-to-day activities,’ says Dr Kalanit.
‘Perhaps have a phone call with them while on your daily walk, or have them on FaceTime in your kitchen while you’re cooking dinner.
‘When you combine conversations with your existing activities, it won’t feel as though it’s another thing for your to-do list, and you will fulfil your need for connection.’
Set aside time for communication
‘Most importantly, make time for it,’ say Sam Adams.
‘Set aside when you’re going to reply and check in with people, rather than spontaneously replying to every message as and when it comes it.
‘The Do Not Disturb feature on my phone is a god-send.’
Try not to hide completely
‘If you are feeling overwhelmed about communicating and back-and-forth texting, then share that with your friends and family,’ suggests Sam.
‘Let them know where you’re at and that you’ll reach out when you can.
‘This is way better than completely blanking them and potentially losing the friendship all together.’
Sam suggests trying emails – you might find they are less stressful then the immediacy of WhatsApp or video calling.
‘Emailing friends is something I have started to do more and more,’ says Sam.
‘It’s on my terms, and I can get a lot or a little out in every email. And I find that I can express myself better. Texts can be short and curt and often misunderstood.’
The important thing to remember is that strong friendships will always survive dips in communication – particularly during tough times like this.
Your friends love you and will understand if you need some quiet time. Set some boundaries and try not to feel too guilty if you can’t always text back straight away.
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