Answer: By giving yourself grace and space
The world is opening up, slowly we are emerging, like a beautiful butterfly who has spent too long in the chrysalis stage. If you’re feeling anxious about the idea of reconnecting with the world, you are not alone. Although many of us are excited about our re-emergence into a post-COVID world, for many of us it is causing various levels of stress and anxiety.
The Mental Health Foundation has been leading an ongoing, UK-wide, repeated cross-sectional study of how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health and they report that feelings of loneliness have not returned to their pre-lockdown levels at any point over the past year and have risen from 10% in March 2020 to 26% in February 2021. The need to reconnect is real because human beings are sociable beings.
The human brain is driven by a basic instinct to survive. This is why the biological and physiological needs, such as food, drink, shelter and warmth form the basis of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As we move half way up this theoretical model we reach the sense of belongingness and the ‘social needs’ like family, affection, relationships, work groups, and community. Humans are social animals for good reason. Without collaboration, there is no survival. Think back to the time of the cave man and cave woman. There were so many threats to society – it wasn’t possible to try to defeat predators like the woolly mammoth, whilst build a home and taking care of the children as well as hunting for food. This was a team effort and required collaboration and interconnection. This is ingrained in our evolutionary psyche.
Now there may be no woolly mammoth to fear but with so much going on in the world around us, connection is still very much a prerequisite for survival for us all, both physically and emotionally. Belonging to a community provides the sense of security that makes our brains happy and helps keep us safe. So how do we embrace community in a changed world?
Start Rebuilding authentic relationships
Our days have been filled with formal calls and video conferences, and by not being in the office, we have been missing out on organic chances to connect with each other. If you’re going to be working back in the office or a co-working space, try to fit more informal, short 15 minute coffee breaks into your day, (ideally avoiding technology if you can) to allow time to reconnect and catch up with colleagues on a personal level.
Now that we can have a life outside of lockdown and working from home, ask your colleagues how their weekend was. Actively try to find out more about their life outside of work, what lights them up, how do they have fun? Because in lockdown every day started to look the same, we didn’t have much to talk about, but now we do, so get talking!
It is important to respect that everyone needs to take it a step at a time and that not every day will be the same in how we feel about connecting with the world again. Many of us can get overwhelmed by social situations, so set yourself up to push yourself out of your comfort zone but also know when you’ve had enough. We have had a long period of time in an ‘enforced comfort zone’ – it’s got comfortable to be in the place we are at right now. Give yourself some grace and space to emerge and reconnect at your own pace and give others that space too. But remember to try to push yourself slightly outside of what is comfortable, as when we step outside our comfort zone, that is when magic can happen.
If you’re back to working in an office or in a hybrid way, in those early days don’t over commit to social events too. It can be very overwhelming to reconnect in many ways in a short space of time.
Try not to over commit yourself to face to face meetings, be content to cancel if you need to. We are all going through so much and at a different pace, don’t worry about anyone judging you.
Surround yourself with the right people
Healthy and supportive relationships are a critical part of self care. It’s important as we start to reconnect to take notice of who feeds your energy and who drains it. Try to set more boundaries with the ‘drainers’, because often we can’t avoid them completely but we can manage how they affect our energy levels. Instead, invest in those who inspire and support you and who understand what it means to have a healthy give and take.
The same goes for your relationships outside of work. Don’t let work cause you to neglect the most important people in your life. Use breaks during the day, or perhaps your commute time, to call friends and loved ones, and carve out plenty of time outside of work to nurture relationships.
Being mindful who you spend your time with in order to protect your energy as we move into more social experiences is important both professionally and personally.
You might want to try to put your social circles into three groups:
1. Those who support and energize,
2. Those who will give it to you straight,
3. Those who you should not call (the constant naysayers)
Spend more time with group 1 and 2 and try as best as you can to avoid group 3!
Create social situations that are right for you
Check in with yourself each day and ask yourself what do you need today to be living your best life. Perhaps it’s a 45 minute phone conversation with a friend you’ve not been able to see for a few months. Maybe it’s attending a networking event after work, or maybe it’s having an early night. It’s about trying to understand what do you need in the moment, and being quite content with that and knowing that every day is probably a little bit different, every day our emotions are different and our stress levels are different.
We are on a journey of change as we move out of the COVID restrictions. Take each day as it comes, celebrate the small things as you move forward and seek out support to help you on this path.
Check out our other articles and read about how you can positively affect your wellbeing and the wellbeing of others: