Fast forward to lockdown 3.0, however, and it’s a very different story. Sure, there may be the odd Zoom call penciled in to your (rather empty-looking) diary, but for the most part, that energy many of us had during the first lockdown seems to have dissipated.
If you’re anything like me, the idea of holding a conversation – let alone engaging in a pub quiz, virtual murder mystery or online event – is enough to make you want to curl up under the duvet and re-watch yet another episode of your favourite TV show. So why is this?
“We don’t have much to talk about right now,” she explains when I ask her why socialising feels so bloody tiring these days. “Normally we’d have tales to tell of parties, travels or even funny anecdotes from work, but after almost a year under the veil of the pandemic and three lockdowns in, the hilarious story of the time the cat walked in front of the camera during an important Zoom call is wearing a bit thin.”
She continues: “The usual fuel for a conversation has run pretty empty, so it’s hard graft trying to run a social conversation on fumes. We simply don’t have much to say and trying to think of interesting things is, well, rather trying.”
On top of this, Dr Arroll points out, the only thing we really do have to talk about these days – aka, the pandemic – can be a difficult subject to navigate, making the conversations we do have emotionally challenging.
“Many of us are experiencing a pervasive sense of guilt as we don’t have it quite as bad as others,” she says. “I call this ‘reverse misery trumps’ whereby no matter what we’re going through, we shrug it off because we can easily find examples of people who are having a harder time. This leads to a fair amount of bottling up when it comes to emotions and frustrations, which in itself can lead to fatigue.
“While it is of course beneficial for emotional health to count our blessings, feeling fed up with the situation and being grateful for our lot are not mutually exclusive emotions. This complex myriad of feelings can make us reluctant to socialise for fear of judgement.”
What Arroll is saying makes a lot of sense. Without any of the little anecdotes and points of interest we had to make our conversations engaging during the first lockdown, our interactions with friends are becoming increasingly doom and gloom. Add to that the fact that any conversation about the pandemic can trigger feelings of guilt, and is it any surprise many people are finding the prospect of socialising less-than appealing right now?
While taking a step back from socialising is fine every once in a while, avoiding it all-together – especially if you live alone – can be damaging for your mental health. Indeed, Dr Arroll explains, it’s OK if your social life isn’t as busy as it might be at other times of the year, but making time for some connection under the current circumstances (even if it is just a phone call or text message) is crucial.
“We musn’t forget that this time of year is commonly one of hibernation – a study of 2,000 UK-based adults commissioned by wellbeing brand Healthspan found 81% often had times when they didn’t step outside at all during daylight hours in winter,” she says. “After Christmas and New Year, and even into February, there are generally few social events in the diary – it just seems particularly stark now because we’re lacking the everyday micro-interactions that we would normally have in the office, while at the shops or having our hair done, for example.
“We know that these mini social exchanges offer a protective function for our mental health, which is one reason why social isolation can be so harmful. Research studies have shown that simply engaging in small talk with a stranger can lift mood and give us a brighter perspective, and that the lack of seemingly meaningless interactions can reduce our sense of vitality and make us feel a bit ‘meh’. We are social creatures after all.”
So, what can you do about all this? While getting out there and reconnecting with friends and family you haven’t spoken to for a while may seem like a challenge, dedicating even five minutes of everyday to connection is a great way to get back in the swing of things.
Although finding new things to talk about right now is hard (and you may feel a little awkward to start with if you’re out of practice), you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re definitely not the only one finding socialising a challenge right now – and the more you do it, the better you’ll likely feel.