By Tara Bhagat
Socializing can be an oasis for those who have been on lockdown for the past six months, but it can also be a source of profound anxiety and second-guessing. Transparency about your behavior in the past few weeks may help comfort your friends and allow them to be better informed about the risk level they are accepting. For example, you can explain to house-mates that you have been seeing x number of people with or without masks. And if you are making plans with a friend, you should tell them about your exposure — for example, if you’ve been to Spoons every night for the past week, might be worth a heads-up. Tips to include:
- How often you’ve been socializing
- How many people you’ve been socializing with
- How close you’ve been / have you been wearing masks?
- Indoors? Outdoors?
Guilt is not your friend! Remember that everyone has a different risk level that they are comfortable with. You are not a bad friend if you don’t feel like going to the pub is safe for you; similarly, you aren’t betraying your immunocompromised friends every time you step outside your uni accommodation. However, give friends a heads-up about three important points!
- Location of Events
- Number of People
And if your friends are carers or are planning on visiting older parents or relatives, they could be reluctant to share this information for fear of missing out on events. Don’t assume your friends are comfortable with the same level of risk as you are. You can even ask them if they would prefer meeting outside, or let them suggest how to meet. And keep inviting your friends to events even if they decline!
The “Loneliness Epidemic”
Practice self-compassion! When we’re in a pandemic, take some time to meditate, watch TV, or read a good book. Cut you and your friends some slack if they’re not responding to you, or you’re feeling discouraged. You owe it to yourself to realise that these interactions are not a referendum on you as a person.
It’s okay to be okay, and it’s okay to not be okay. Celebrate your wins as well!
Especially for your immunocompromised or carer pals, seeing everyone partying it up while the case numbers go up and up can be incredibly frustrating. Here are some tips:
- Take a Break from social media: Instagram and Snapchat can make you really sad and accentuate FOMO.
- Take time to schedule calls with your friends : wine nights, pub quizzes, or any other ideas that you usually do. You might find it useful to be facetimed in (or not).
- Keep friends on call during mundane tasks. Even if you’re doing group things on Zoom or being facetimed in, you can keep friends on FaceTime or messenger calls while you do work or do your reading, or even cooking! I’ve found Netflix Party great because you can chat while watching TV! You can call them if you’re able to go outside and take a walk
- Do asynchronous “pacts.” Make playlists, share music, even create a fitness challenge and document your #gainz.
Maintaining some contact will keep you grounded even if you have to be staying inside.
Another small tragedy of the pandemic is the loss of random acquaintance contact — people you won’t necessarily go out of your way to chat to, but perhaps the person on your course who you run into at lectures and chat between the break or the person you’re always running into at your college café. Perhaps you could suggest your supervision group (with or without your supervisor) go to coffee if in person or stay on the Zoom and play a game of Psych! (Not an ad, I promise)
How to tell a friend about your concerns
Use “I” language about why you personally don’t feel comfortable attending the event or think it may be a bad idea. Talk to them in a calm voice, as they become very defensive of their ideas (as the recent drama on Camfess has shown!) Do not write a Grudgebridge about them or about how horribly stupid they’re being! They will more likely listen to YOU as a trusted friend than you as a sudden coronavirus expert with a medical degree in Facebook articles, i.e. try to say “I am worried about the rising number of cases” rather than “you NEED to read this epidemiological study” — we’ve all become “experts” in epidemiology sadly. If they still don’t seem receptive, ask if you all could do something else together!
If you’re the one who’s making plans:
Consider the risk level you’re taking yourself into! What may have been okay with your home friends might be very different in our crowded college town. Don’t get irritated with your friends or be defensive, it’s not that they don’t want to see you! Try to refrain from calling them a germaphobe — you may not be aware of their increased risk level. You can also suggest that both of you wear masks as they may be hesitant to voice their concerns.
Check in on your friends to flatten the mental health curve
With the impossibility of physical sessions with therapists, telehealth therapy, whether synchronous sessions with a therapist or psychiatrist, can be promising. However, another, more democratic solution is peer therapy. Peer support groups and peer-led interventions have had promising results when tested for effectiveness in ameliorating depression and severe conditions.
During the pandemic, we can also learn from peer-led groups by creating safe spaces for our friends to vent and checking in with them. Other examples of peer program resources include hotlines (calling 111). Here is a handy guide to checking in with your friends.
More central initiatives are needed from the clinical world to transform mental health at the population level, attempting to reach everyone rather than hyper-focus on those already in treatment. For example, exercise, sleep hygiene, and going outdoors are stress-relieving and cost-free. More communal support will reduce the stigma!
Be safe and stay connected!
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