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The new normal: “Why is meeting up with friends so emotionally exhausting now?”

Posted by
Lauren Geall
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As coronavirus restrictions ease and our social lives get back into full swing, we’re beginning to realise navigating our ‘new normal’ is more exhausting than we first thought.

Over the weekend I, like many people, enjoyed a healthy dose of ‘normality’. Meeting up with friends, sitting in a pub garden and enjoying the bank holiday weekend, it was hard to imagine we’d been stuck inside thanks to a nationwide lockdown just a few months earlier.

Having face-to-face conversations after so long spent talking to a screen still feels like a breath of fresh air – and enjoying a pub lunch was the cherry on top of the cake. It was, for want of a better phrase, bloody lovely.

Except from the fact that, underneath all of the normal activity of a pub garden at the weekend, there were small signs that everything wasn’t, in fact, back to normal. There was the moment when, after taking our seats at the table and diving into conversation, the waiter came over and reminded us we hadn’t yet filled in ‘track and trace’ forms. Or later, when the waitress lent over the table to serve our plates, and I felt a sudden surge of anxiety because of how close we were. 

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After the excitement of being back to some kind of ‘normal’ faded, the reality of the situation we’re still facing – the rules we had to follow, the risk of others coming too close to our table – began to dawn on me. The presence of coronavirus, and the threat it continues to pose to people all over the world, felt just as real as ever.

I’m aware how privileged I am not to have felt the reality of coronavirus so acutely before this point. I’m lucky that, at time of writing, my family and friends have remained healthy – that, for the most part, we’ve been able to keep working (albeit from home) and been able to resume some semblance of normality through these unprecedented times.

A queue of people social distancing at a supermarket
Everyday interactions like shopping are now more emotionally exhausting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But spending time with friends again has made clear how emotionally exhausting coronavirus has made the everyday interactions we used to take for granted. Going to the shop, for example, is no longer an unremarkable experience – you need to remember to bring a mask with you, and being in a public place surrounded by people from outside your household means you’re constantly thinking about staying two metres apart and being considerate of those around you.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the rules we have to follow to stop the spread of coronavirus are a problem – in fact, without them, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable heading out in the first place. I’m just saying that going out now carries a lot more weight to it – on top of the fact that we’re suddenly spending so much time with people after months spent in lockdown, we now have to manage our anxieties and worries about the virus, and stay alert to ensure we’re not putting ourselves or others at risk. 

It’s no surprise then, that so many of us are finding socialising in lockdown surprisingly exhausting. When I came back home from the pub at the weekend, I felt emotionally drained – not only from the joy of seeing people in the flesh and excitement of catching up, but the anxiety of making sure I was following the rules and staying safe. 

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It’s a new kind of emotional labour we’re going to have to get used to as we adapt to our ‘new normal’. Now, more than ever, being able to communicate openly with our friends and those around us, and being able to tell them when we’re feeling exhausted or uncomfortable about a situation, is vital.

Being able to see the people we love face to face again is an incredible opportunity, but we also need to take the time to take care of ourselves and our emotions during this unfamiliar time. 

Coping with anxiety

If you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety and worry during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important to understand that this is a completely normal response to the current situation. However, if you’re looking for a way to alleviate some of those feelings, here’s three articles that might help.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, you can also speak to your GP who’ll be able to help you with ways you can manage it. Organisations like Mind, the NHS and Bupa all have a wealth of advice freely available online, and you can call the Samaritans anytime at 116 123 for support.

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Lauren Geall

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