33 Ways To Reclaim Your Social Life

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33 Ways To Reclaim Your Social Life

Words by Mr Colin Crummy

27 May 2021

Hello world! It’s very nice to see you. However happy we all feel about putting the last year behind us, re-emerging from the experience isn’t going to be without its challenges. Whether you’ve got reentry anxiety or can’t wait to get out there, there are going to be adjustments to make. With that in mind, we’ve asked a range of experts for tips that might help us navigate the transition, including situations that might present themselves in our relationships, our professional and social lives and on our plans as we move forward. The world is not as it was, but with a little help it’s possible to head back into it with a spring in your step.

01.

Get happy

Let’s be frank. Uncertainty will remain a part of our lives for the foreseeable. But for our wellbeing, it’s time to focus on the bright side. “We need to prioritise our happiness, especially in tough times,” says Dr Laurie Santos, psychology professor at Yale and creator of The Happiness Lab podcast. “There’s evidence that feeling happier can help us in lots of ways beyond merely feeling good. Happier people have strong immune function and even live longer. So focusing on improving our wellbeing is more important than we usually realise.”

02.

Be social

“One improvement will simply be more access to other people,” says Dr Santos. “Psychologists have long shown that social connection is one of the key features of a happy life. Even simple social interactions – chatting with the barista at the coffee shop or a colleague at the water cooler at work – can make us feel better. More of this social interaction will help us all collectively feel better.”

03.

Negotiate change

Moving back into the wider world is an opportunity for a reset at home. “We will have to renegotiate roles and tasks, whether that’s about parenting or household chores,” says Dr Irina Firstein, a New York-based relationship therapist. “There may be some disagreements as to priorities. Compromise, make accommodations. Ultimately, having a bit more space for everyone will be a welcome situation.”

04.

Expect adjustment

“For couples who have become very dependent on each other, separateness can feel awkward for a while, but with communication, this can be adjusted and handled,” says Dr Firstein, who advises similar patience if lockdown caused relationship tensions that haven’t eased. “Therapy is always a good idea if a couple cannot get out of the rut.”

05.

Take it slow

Whether you’ve spent the lockdowns alone or within a bubble, reentry anxiety can be experienced whatever your circumstances. Getting back to the new normal can be stressful. The best advice? Re-emerge at your own pace.

06.

Reach out

We’ve missed social touch hugely this past year. Touch boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure and can decrease the level of stress hormones such as cortisol. The lack of it can trigger factors that contribute to depression, lethargy and sadness, according to research by neuroscientists Dr Francis McGlone and Professor Merle Fairhurst. So, when it’s safe to do so, it’s time to hug it out.

07.

Respect boundaries

We all experienced the past year differently. Emerging into a more social world will be about negotiating personal boundaries. A survey of epidemiologists in The New York Times in June 2020 found that hugging or shaking hands with a friend would be one of the last activities people would resume as the pandemic eased. Even if you feel less hesitant, respect that others might not feel the same.

08.

Reconnect with friends

If you’re worried you didn’t keep in contact with your mates as much in 2020, don’t stress about it. “Male friendships – which tend to be more casual and activity-based – will likely stand the course of time,” says Dr Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, whose specialist topic is our buddies. “But don’t leave off seeing them, even if that just means having a beer together.”

09.

Make some new friends

Friends are important for maintaining happiness, health and chances of a long life, according to Dr Dunbar, whose research showed that those with better support networks are likely to recover after a heart attack or stroke. Dunbar recommends building a solid group of friends of 15, about five of whom form our inner circle.

10.

Listen to others

Everyone has been affected by the past year. Many will have suffered profound loss. The best thing to do is listen. “Talking about grief with someone can be a difficult conversation to start, but it is really important that they know you are thinking about them,” says Ms Amy Green, project manager at Cruse Bereavement Care, the UK’s largest bereavement charity. “You can’t ‘fix’ their grief, but you can be there for them through it and listening is one of the kindest things you can do.”

11.

Listen to yourself

If you have suffered loss, don’t put your grief on hold. “Make sure you tell people if you’re struggling,” advises Green. “Keep talking about the person who had died and how you’re feeling. Give yourself time and permission to grieve.”

12.

Explore new perspectives

“In the past year, there’s been shifts in perspective and priorities for us all,” says Ms Cate Sevilla, author of How To Work Without Losing Your Mind. “Investing in yourself – investing in your life, your health, what you truly want out of your work – is the most important thing to consider when making decisions around your time and energy.”

13.

Take time over your next move

If you’re considering changing work, assess the risk involved. “If your mental health is in dire need of a change, then prioritise that, while still making sure you won’t cause yourself more stress and anxiety by getting yourself into a tricky financial situation,” advises Sevilla. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help with this from a trusted friend, partner or accountant, either.”

14.

Don’t rush it, if you can

If you’ve lost work, give yourself as much time to recover as your financial situation will allow, advises Sevilla. “Applying randomly for 100 jobs you don’t even want in a panic, rather than targeting specific companies or reaching out to your contacts first, probably isn’t going to work. Neither is going into job interviews when you’re obviously still upset. Hiring managers will pick up on this.”

15.

Change your expectations

Whatever your work situation, it’s a good time to reflect on what you want it to be. “We don’t need to all be CEOs and traditionally ambitious,” says Sevilla. “If it’s more important to you to have a blast in your personal life, that’s more than OK. Choose to invest in yourself and your own desires rather than just what’s expected of you.”

16.

Evaluate your dating goals

Many will be making up for lost time on the dating scene. “Once the novelty of sex and meeting up in real life starts to wear off, people will be asking themselves serious questions about who they really want to spend their time with,” says eHarmony’s dating expert Ms Rachael Lloyd. “During times of great uncertainty people yearn for stronger connections and they reevaluate their goals.”

17.

Define your end goal

“My advice is to always begin any key process with the end goal in mind,” says Lloyd. “So, when it comes to dating, what kind of relationship are you looking for? And what qualities do you value in a potential partner? What are your deal breakers? Make a list if you want clarity and move forwards with those thoughts in mind.”

18.

Set new boundaries

The dating scene will have changed, so sound out your date in advance. “One tip is to agree boundaries with your prospective date before meeting,” says Lloyd. “Are you happy to meet in a pub? Are you both on the same page vaccination-wise? Is this casual or the start of something more ambitious?”

19.

Be mindful

Be aware of how you’re feeling through all of this change, whether in your professional or personal life. “Some men are experiencing mental-health problems for the first time,” explains Mr Stephen Buckley, head of information for mental-health charity Mind. “While those with existing mental-health problems are finding they are getting worse.”

20.

Get support

“Men are traditionally slow to seek for support for their mental health, but bottling up how you are feeling is likely to make things worse in the long-run,” says Buckley, whose team have created a guide, Find the Words, to help men navigate their issues. “Reaching out to someone you trust for support may be a crucial factor in navigating the mental health implications of life post-pandemic. Equally, go see your GP before your symptoms become more severe.”

21.

Decide your pace

James has been a listening volunteer at Samaritans and shares this advice: “If you feel your friends or family are being too pushy or insensitive after lockdown, try and tell them gently that you need more time or fewer expectations. Don’t feel pressured into going too far, too fast – it’s important to take small and sustainable steps that respect that each of us has our own pace.”

22.

Take small steps

Research shows that most severe mental health impacts will emerge over the next two years, says Prof Kavita Vedhara, a health psychologist at Nottingham University. “It’s important to take small steps. A lot of people might feel considerable anxiety about returning to anything resembling normal social contact. The first return to bars, restaurants, shopping centres, sporting venues may feel challenging.”

23.

Explore the world

If you’re feeling ready to explore the wider world again, and government rules around travel permit, it pays to get some expert help. “The chaos of the last year has illustrated how worthwhile it can be to enlist the services of a tour operator,” advises Mr John O’Ceallaigh, travel journalist and founder of luxury travel consultancy Lute. “Book with a reputable outfit and they should warn you of every risk and also take care of every issue that arises.”

24.

Mind where you go

It is essential you do your homework before making travel plans. “We’ve seen countries erect the drawbridges at a moment’s notice,” says O’Ceallaigh. “For now, I wouldn’t personally go anywhere that doesn’t have a robust healthcare system or where I would likely become uncomfortable if confined to the country for longer than originally expected.”

25.

Reimagine work spaces

Whether WFH, back in the office or a hybrid of both, now is a good moment to refresh the way we work, says Prof Almuth McDowall, an organisational psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London. “Ask yourself: what can I do to be physically and mentally present in meetings? How can we all agree a ‘code of conduct’ that is good for everyone? And we might all need to leave our pyjama trousers at home.”

26.

Get dressed

It may also be time to dress for more than just function. “Dressing up will enhance your mood,” advises fashion psychologist Ms Dawnn Karen. “It gives you a sense of control and a sense of normalcy. It also gives you a sense of security, even in a time of uncertainty.”

27.

Stick with athleisure

Don’t throw your athleisure look out altogether, however. “The idea of changing your wardrobe completely doesn’t feel the most helpful thing to do,” says Karen, who also teaches at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “You want to segue into a post-pandemic life in the most seamless manner. So, I wouldn’t discard everything.”

28.

Have a reset

“Take this opportunity to be more intentional about which bits of ‘normal’ we want to reintroduce,” says Ms Jen Gale, author of The Sustainable(ish) Guide To Living. “Food waste dropped by a third in the first lockdown. Can you look for reusable options instead of single use, even just some of the time? Can you do a meal plan to cut down on food waste?”

29.

Make small changes

“The easiest big-impact thing that the vast majority of us can do is to switch our energy supplier to a renewable tariff,” adds Gale. It’s a tip shared by Mr Paul Greenberg, whose newly published book, The Climate Diet, offers 50 small tips for scaleable personal change, including switching off your lightbulbs, changing supplier and how to ask your municipality to change, too.

30.

Invest in your future

The pandemic has affected our finances very differently. “If you’ve been fortunate enough to stay in work and built up savings, use this opportunity to think about what you actually like spending money on, what you’re saving for and how much you need to get there,” suggests Ms Laura Whateley, author of Money: A User’s Guide. “Financial advisers recommend you have at least three to six months of bills and rent or mortgage in cash, for emergencies, but above this consider investing to beat inflation while cash savings rates are so poor.”

31.

Work it out

If money is an issue, Whateley has this advice: “Make sure you fully understand your financial position. Too few of us actually sit down and work out exactly what is coming in and what is going out in granular detail. Apps such as Money Dashboard or Yolt let you see all accounts in one place and highlight where you’re wasting cash, such as on subscriptions you’ve forgotten about. Focus on paying down any credit card or loan debt if you can. Speak to your bank about breathing space on mortgages and debt repayments. The debt charity Step Change offers helpful anonymous online advice.”

32.

Reimagine self-care

“The ‘self’ part of self-care can be a misnomer,” says happiness expert Dr Santos. “Research shows that doing acts of kindness for others can boost our wellbeing. Buying something nice for another person can even make us feel better than spending money on ourselves. So, to really achieve self-care we need to turn our focus to other people.”

33.

Embrace complexity

It’s OK to acknowledge that it’s been a tough year, whatever your circumstances. It might well be helpful going forward. “Accepting the complexity of our lives and emotions, our disappointments, furies, longings, dismays, hurts, allows us to inhabit ourselves more fully,” says writer and psychoanalyst Dr Susie Orbach. “It enriches us, even if it can hurt, and enables us to experience a base line of OK-ness, that we can manage even when things are tough.”