Find the way back to relationships in a post-pandemic world
Daniela Ginta, MSc
It’s been over two years since we were able to get together (indoors!) with loved ones and not feel apprehensive about it. Nowadays, trying to get back to rekindling connections, we find it’s more like a dance: two steps forward, one step back. Can we pick it up from where we left it? The short answer is yes, and with the added awareness of how precious our social connections are—a lifeline of sorts.
There’s no doubt the pandemic has made many of us a bit jumpy. Although we suffered collectively, the effects on various population groups have differed.
“It’s important to acknowledge that people’s ability to weather the pandemic ‘storm’ had a lot to do with their life situation and the resources they had available to them, including the basics,” says David Gomes, Vancouver-based life coach and mindfulness teacher.
According to the latest research, anxiety, depression, and mental health have not been severely impacted in the general population. However, women and parents did experience a heavier burden during the pandemic, so if you’re among this group, give yourself some credit.
One of the big lessons many of us learned was how to live with uncertainty and make the best of it.
Like it or hate it, referring to different generations as X (born in the ’60s and ’70s), Y (millennials or “digital natives,” born in the ’80s and ’90s), and Z (post-millennials, born in 2000 and after) makes it easier to understand the impact of the global phenomenon that shook us all.
Being able to navigate through the digital world with ease came in handy for the Y and Z generations during the pandemic, but it was hardly enough to make up for the loss of in-person socializing. Life milestones, such as graduation ceremonies, weddings, and celebrations of life, were put on hold.
“Young people, especially, found themselves challenged by the pandemic, because it came at a time when they were stepping out into the world, having to find jobs and a way forward, which is something their parents didn’t have to contend with,” says Gomes.
Age notwithstanding, many of us learned new things about ourselves, including the simple joy of being alone (without being lonely).
It’s complicated. We know extensive use of screens is detrimental to our well-being. It can get in the way of being present; it can affect our sleep and shred our focus, which affects work productivity.
But throw in a pandemic, and we’re suddenly relying on screens for most of our human interactions—from work and family online chats to dating and exercising.
“Humans have always gathered around in a circle to tell stories, to celebrate, and to be with each other; it’s in our DNA,” says Gomes.
The screens, love them or hate them, provided a relief from solitude during a time when we needed it the most.
We’re wired for connection, so despite the dread of yet another Zoom call, most of us enjoyed getting together, albeit through a screen.
On the other hand, says Gomes, “Creating deep connections through meaningful conversations can happen via screen chats and phone calls, too, though nothing can replace in-person communication.”
Not having the freedom to decide how to connect with people affected us all. However, there was a positive outcome: we now know that many jobs can be done virtually, which can be liberating for anyone dreading daily commutes or wishing to live remotely to ease financial burdens.
Life is the sum of many changes, most of which we have no control over—and the recent pandemic is proof of that. “Many of us don’t like change, so we try to keep things stable,” says Gomes.
Developing coping skills, such as becoming mindful of transitions, can help reduce the anxiety often associated with life events, pandemic included.
“Life is an endless series of transitions,” says Gomes, which is what the pandemic reminded us. “It reminded us of the sacredness of being able to be outside and connecting with our fellow humans.”
As we collectively invoked returning to normal as our saving grace, it’s worth exploring, says Gomes, “what parts of the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ are worth returning to.”
Some relationships didn’t survive the pandemic, and there were heartbreaking stories of increased intimate partner abuse. However, those who could rely on their partners for closeness and connection while isolated found it easier to cope.
“From a mindful perspective, I also became aware of what was not cancelled: music, nature, reading, singing, laughing, and ultimately hope,” says Gomes.
It’s a worthy reminder that although the connections to each other, to nature, and even to our deeper self can be challenged by dramatic life events, they can never be severed.
The dating world in an age of social anxiety
Feeling anxious about the post-pandemic dating scene? Here are some tips to consider.
· Ask questions (type of relationship you’re after; COVID questions, too, if that’s a concern).
· Take it slowly, but don’t allow anxiety to set the rules.
· Online profiles are often highly curated. Meeting in person is still the real deal.
· Not ready for dining in yet? Have an outdoor picnic instead.
Micro-habits to help you break out of your shell
· Craft a neighbourhood “smile-and-greet” walk into your days. People will reciprocate, courtesy of mimicking neurons (and the human need for connection).
· Have a 1:1 chat with friends instead of checking their social media feed for updates.
· Start a gratitude journal for all the meaningful connections in your life.
Social connections—essential to our happiness and health
· Interacting with friends at least once a month can keep you in the “happiness zone.”
· Paradoxically, pursuing happiness as a goal often leads to unhappiness. Instead, letting go of happiness metrics and engaging in pleasant activities, alone or with others, creates happiness as a side effect.
· Being socially connected reduces our risk of mental illness, including dementia, and supports immune health.