I’d like to start this by issuing a quick disclaimer: I love my friends. I feel incredibly lucky to have so many amazing people around me. Whether we’re laughing over dinner, dancing the night away or drinking a cup of tea in front of the TV, my friends give me a sense of identity and purpose.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and lockdown was enforced we, like many others across the world, embraced our newfound virtual social lives with a particular vigour. Meeting up on platforms such as Zoom, Houseparty and WhatsApp became our new normal. Virtual drinks, pub quizzes and online games became part and parcel of everyday life. It all felt very exciting.
Until… it wasn’t anymore. As we come to the end of our fifth week of lockdown, the novelty of video calling has long worn off. No longer am I rushing to organise back-to-back Houseparty sessions and spend hours staring at myself on Zoom. The few calls I’ve had since the initial surge have, inevitably, made me feel a million times better, but when it comes to organising things, my motivation has long gone. Why?
Well, reader, I’ve got a few theories. Number one? I’m bloody shattered. On top of the fact that lockdown is making us feel physically exhausted, I also feel like I’m more stressed than usual, too. It’s not like I’m upset or anxious about any one thing in particular at the moment – I just feel like I’m busier than ever, despite going nowhere.
Because the thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve got all that “spare time” everyone’s talking about. I know that I’m incredibly privileged to be able to work from home right now, but on top of the 9-5 and finding time to destress after work, I don’t have much time to indulge in any lockdown-related activities.
While everyone on social media seems to be baking bread, volunteering or getting crafty, I feel like I’m too busy to do anything but fall asleep on the sofa at 7pm. The idea of spending my whole evening on FaceTime on top of all that leaves me feeling a bit deflated, no matter how hard I try to get into it, and the pressure from social media to have a “thriving” virtual social life makes things even more tricky.
“The highly destabilising nature of the current situation is likely to have created an emotional instability in most of us,” explains Charlotte Armitage, a media and business psychologist at YAFTA. “This emotional instability can create a level of anxiety which we may or may not be aware of. If we are unaware of it, anxiety might present in a number of different ways but it most certainly can result in feeling fatigued and emotionally drained.”
“The additional processing that our brains are required to do to adjust to these new ways of living, new thought patterns and unstable emotions that we encounter during the day is incredibly tiring.”
I’m also finding video calling particularly tough on my mental health. Being able to see (and pick apart) every little thing about the way I speak, smile, look and react during a conversation puts a downer on things. I’ve never been one who has struggled with self-esteem to a large extent, but I feel like every video call is making me feel worse about myself.
I know I’m not the only one who’s feeling this way, but it still feels scary to say it. Now more than ever I want my friends to know that I’m there for them, but that won’t always be over video call. I also understand that, for those people living alone or separated from their families, video calling has been an important lifeline. I get it – speaking with my boyfriend every day is keeping me going right now – and sometimes I really need those moments of connection with my mates. But other times, I need to say no – and I think that’s OK.
For now, I’ll be limiting the number of video calls and virtual meetups I organise, and using messaging and phone calls to break up the time I spend staring at my face on a screen. It’ll make those moments of virtual connection even more special.