As lockdown eases and our social lives begin to return to normal, many of us are finding that socialising post-coronavirus is a lot more exhausting than expected.
At the weekend, I took my first tentative step out of lockdown by meeting up with a friend IRL. As someone who deals with anxiety and prefers to adopt a more wary approach to life, this was a surprisingly big deal.
But still, I persisted. We sat two metres apart, brought our own food and sat in the sun for three hours talking about anything and everything. Talking to someone who wasn’t on a screen felt like a breath of fresh air compared to the last two months. It was, for the most part, bloody glorious.
Except from the fact that, underneath the feigned normality of a picnic in the park, there were small signs that everything wasn’t, in fact, normal at all. There was the moment when, in the process of moving our bags out of the sun, we probably weren’t two metres apart. Or the situation where, excited to show me a funny video she’d seen in the last week, my friend went to move closer – before realising she was too close and showing me the clip from a distance.
After the excitement of seeing someone in the flesh died down, the reality of the situation – the rules we had to follow, the dangers of coming too close to each other – began to dawn on us. The presence of coronavirus, and the threat it continues to pose to people all over the world, felt realer than 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.
But seeing my friend for the first time made it really 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 – being in a public place surrounded by people from outside your household means you’re constantly thinking about staying two metres apart, being considerate of those around you, not making the wrong move.
It’s the same with friendships. From today, groups of six people from different households are now able to meet in an outside setting, as long as they comply to social distancing. This is, of course, great news – especially for those people who have struggled with feelings of loneliness over the last couple of months. But meeting up with friends – whether you’re hosting a BBQ, having a garden party or simply picnicking in the park – is no longer as simple as dropping a text on the group chat. Making sure everyone is on the same page – that you’ll stay apart, won’t share food and will respect the boundaries of others – is now an essential part of the conversation, and staying on top of it all is draining, to say the least.
It’s no surprise then, that so many of us are finding socialising in lockdown surprisingly exhausting. When I came back from my meetup at the weekend, I felt emotionally drained – not only from the joy of seeing people in the flesh, but the anxiety of making sure I was following the rules and staying safe.
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 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.
If you’re an avid Stylist fan, you’ll know it’s not always possible to find an issue of our magazine. Often they’re gone before you head into work (they disappear fast!), or you live in a part of the UK where you can’t get your hands on a copy. Add to this the fact that millions of us are not commuting right now, and we wanted to ensure you don’t miss out on the magazine any longer.
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