Backtrack to the summer of 2019 when you may have been travelling to new places on vacation, or gathering with groups of friends for summer BBQs, or going to concerts, movie theaters, and performances. You probably didn’t think about numbers of people in attendance, and you may have felt quite at ease interacting with others in groups. You were probably coming into contact and crossing paths with people regularly.
Then, with amazing speed and force, the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe. Within days, if not hours, companies sent employees home, and we began sequestered work lives and social lives virtually, from our homes.
A sharp contrast between those times is that people took for granted being among groups and seeing others in different contexts. A consistent rhythm of interaction existed that granted an ease and flow before physical separation and fear became part of daily life.
Without a doubt isolation brings a whole host of psychological and social “side effects.” As humans we thrive on connection with others, and the connection is maintained and supported by social structures, both informal and formal.
With these patterns and structures having been abruptly interrupted by the pandemic, many people have been noticing that their social skills are rusty as they have begun to emerge from their small “pods” and engage with more people. We may have gotten used to relating (in-person, without masks) to the same few people. As we re-enter a social and/or work life that is no longer the same as what we might expect it to be, perhaps our “old” ways of interacting feel strange and unfamiliar.
If you are engaging more in-person lately, what are you noticing about your social skills? Some people have been surprised that they feel awkward, more quiet, perhaps even somewhat anxious. Others may feel elated and want to make up for “lost” time by talking a lot. No matter what your experience of “new” live social re-engagement, here are some ways to address it:
Check in with yourself before meeting people or being in a group. Notice what thoughts and feelings are coming up; is it excitement, anticipation, joy, worry, self-consciousness, dread, etc.? Where are you feeling it in your body?
Acknowledge and allow the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. Avoid judging them as good or bad. Just being aware and acknowledging them can ease and soften the experience and allow you to work with it.
Start slowly. You don’t have to take on all your social groups all at once; “test the water” by seeing only a few people with whom you feel comfortable and for short periods of time. Re-establish your connection with them before venturing out to larger groups.
Give yourself time. Be aware that socializing outside your “pod” may feel different after 18+ months of limited contact. Honor where you are at; and avoid thinking something is “wrong” with you if you don’t feel the way you used to when being with others.
Be genuine. Don’t force yourself to act differently than you feel. Be yourself; after all, that is the true gift you can offer others and certainly to yourself.
Be gentle with yourself. If you don’t feel like going to a social event or being with a group of people, don’t force yourself to go. Sit this one out and participate when you are ready. Everyone has their own needs, pace, and comfort level.
Retain what you’ve gained. During a prolonged period of social isolation, maybe you have discovered other outlets that bring you joy and energize you – perhaps taking walks in nature, gardening, reading, listening to music. Whatever it is, continue to nurture yourself with these things. They may have helped fill some of the social gaps during those months and became more valuable to you.
Redefine social skills. Allow yourself to interact and communicate with people differently than you might have in the past. Everyone has been adapting to and getting through these pandemic months in different ways. As such, they’ve gained new skills. With these new skills and new-found ways to be in the world, it’s no wonder you might not act or talk the same way in social interactions. Conversation may feel stilted or limited. Instead of talking about all the things you’ve been doing, you might be inclined to talk more about how you are “being.” After all, many were not going anywhere or doing much of what they were able to do before the pandemic. Maybe more has been happening inwardly than in an outward, activity-oriented way. Perhaps that is new territory for sharing and conversation.
Also, assess the situation; we need to be more cognizant of how close we stand to people when talking, how to express ourselves if wearing a face mask, and how loud to talk, so that others can hear us, and how to gracefully start and end a conversation. With all these changed conditions, we need to re-establish norms.
Say it as it is. Since so many are finding their social skills lacking in this new landscape of pandemic entreaty, it might be helpful to acknowledge the awkwardness and newness of socializing up front when talking to others. Just say out loud how strange it is to be in public socializing again. The other people may feel the same way, and getting it out in the open relieves some of the stress, anxiety, and subsequent tension.
Honor how you have changed. An event as seismic as a global pandemic is bound to change the world and people. It has literally shaken people to the core through loss of life, work, social interaction and community, health, activities, and more. In addition to the world around you changing, you, too, have probably changed. Perhaps your perspectives and priorities, as well as your sense of self, have changed. Take time to reflect and honor this.
Of course, the pandemic has had a much bigger effect on us than just our social skills. While social skills can be relearned, rebuilt, and refined, it will take much longer to assess and comprehend the greater impact of the pandemic emotionally, physically, and socially. Some may have gotten comfortable in a sort of self-protective cocoon and may be reluctant to emerge from that into this unchartered territory.
What to do TODAY?
Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people build and access awareness about themselves, which can increase their understanding of themselves in relation to others in this new world since the pandemic. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.