The year 2020 started with high hopes … until the coronavirus delivered a stunning reality check. As the sickness quickly spread around the globe in the early months of the year, country after country shut down businesses, issued stay-at-home orders, and generally quarantined their inhabitants for days and then weeks and then months.
With the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic officially fading into the rearview mirror, people around the world are beginning to pick themselves up and look for the best ways to return to some kind of normal.
One of the greatest challenges that this return to normalcy presents is the need to carefully maintain relationships both near and far.
The Struggle of Separation
Humans are designed to be social, emotional, and intimate with one another. In fact, social interaction is connected with a plethora of different health benefits. It can prevent morbidity, high blood pressure, depression, and even mortality.
Seniors are particularly at risk in social isolation, as a lack of interaction with others can exacerbate things like a weakened immune system, heart disease, and cancer as well as dementia and other mental illnesses.
As humanity has forged a new path through the trials of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone, young and old, has had to face the dangers of social isolation head-on. Fortunately, technology has provided a boon that was lacking during the quarantines of the past. Video chats and YouTube channels, texts, and emails have done their part to keep the lines of communication open.
Even so, while technology can ameliorate the pain of separation, it doesn’t serve as an equivalent replacement, and the plain truth of the matter is, as the quarantine winds down, people need to socialize with each other more than ever before.
Carefully Coming Back Together
While nearly everyone is in agreement that some face-to-face time with friends and family is desperately needed, it’s important that the proper precautions are taken as everyone comes back together. No one wants a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases to force everyone to beat a hasty retreat back into social isolation. So it’s imperative that everyone takes the process of coming back together seriously.
How to Handle Physical Reunions
Let’s start with physical reunions. At some point along the way, you’re going to stop by your parent’s house, visit a friend, or go on a date. Before you re-emerge from your solitude, it’s important to take some time to brush the rust off of your social skills. A few tips to keep in mind as you prepare to engage in in-person interactions again include:
- Practicing active listening: You won’t have time to re-read a message or mull over a comment before responding so make sure to listen to what others are saying as they speak.
- Remember boundaries: It can be difficult to avoid off-limit topics even in the best of times. Make a conscious effort to remember that things such as others’ relationships or medical diagnoses are not your business unless someone invites you into them.
- Censor your words: When you spend months in isolation, it’s easy to give your inner dialogue the lion’s share of your mental capacity. However, as you engage with others, strive to avoid sharing anything and everything that you’re thinking. From offering unsolicited advice about another’s marriage to making an off the cuff comment on a personal decision, make sure to put a filter on what you say out loud.
Exercising these basic social mental processes can help you avoid awkward situations. They can also prevent you from putting your foot in your mouth or hurting feelings as you readjust to seeing people on a regular basis.
The Power of Compromise
While it’s exciting to finally be able to see people again, it’s important to remember that there’s still a genuine virus still on the loose. While there are some occasions where it makes sense to physically be near others, such as going to work or attending a relative’s 50th birthday party, it’s still important to avoid unnecessary social situations whenever possible.
For instance, you don’t have to go out to a crowded restaurant in order to celebrate your anniversary. There are plenty of fun yet affordable options, such as camping or dining in, that can allow you to celebrate without excessive exposure to others.
The point is, as you re-enter social life, try to avoid overdosing on the emotional high at the expense of risking yourself and others unnecessarily. Certainly interact with others in-person whenever it makes sense, but don’t be afraid to compromise with your plans when it seems appropriate.
Don’t Abandon Remote Relationships
Finally, it’s worth remembering that long-term relationships, whether they’re remote or in person, really are worth the work to maintain.
As you reconnect with others in person, then, be careful not to abandon established remote relationships in the process. As you focus on reigniting in-person social activity, consider what friends and family members don’t live near you and make sure to keep up communication with them going forward.
Maintaining Relationships Through Quarantine
No one can predict if and when another quarantine will take place. However, it’s important to break down and understand the process that brings you out of social isolation. It requires a steady, deliberate focus on connecting with others in person while simultaneously continuing to maintain the relationships that still need to stay remote.
If you can do both of these as you ease back into a normal state, you’ll be able to stay safe and maintain healthy relationships at the same time.