Over the last week, since social distancing and ‘lockdown’ came into effect, I have spoken to my friends more than I have since I left school.
My group of friends from university, friends from my home town, from my netball team, old colleagues – we’ve been having daily phonecalls, extensive WhatsApp chats and group video calls that last for hours.
These are groups of pals who struggle to find themselves in the same room together more than once per year, suddenly putting weekly catch-ups in the diary, and no one is flaking on the plans.
We can all be guilty of taking our friendships for granted. The older we get, the more life and responsibilities get in the way and make it harder to put the time in. We cancel plans, we forget to check in, we get out of the habit of calling.
But one silver lining of this awful and scary global situation is our collective reconnection with our friendships and the reminder of how much we need each other.
This sudden, drastic and unprecendented restriction on our freedoms, coupled with growing anxiety about the state of the world and the safety of our loved ones, means that we all need our friendships more than ever. We are clinging to each other in a way that we haven’t for years – and I only hope this renewed neediness for our friends lasts long after the pandemic is over.
How to connect with your friends while social distancing
Download the HouseParty app and schedule a ‘Happy Hour’ with work colleagues – it’s a great way to keep morale high. For employees to stay incentivised, employers can even order boxes of drinks to be delivered to their houses – Thompson & Scott do a great organic prosecco and 0% sparkling wine.
If you’re used to working out with friends, keep the routine going by diarising online workouts together. London’s top studios from Barry’s Bootcamp to Psycle are streaming their workouts via Instagram Live.
You might not be able to invite friends over for dinner, but why not take inspiration from the Table Manner’s by Jessie Ware podcast, and connect via Zoom instead. Set yourselves the same recipe or come up with something completely different and discuss your culinary creations via virtual chat. Whether you’re planning an intimate affair or a dinner party, Zoom allows you to add up to 100 participants.
If you’ve hit a rough patch with a friend or a family member and are trying to breath the ice, the app has a bunch of games from Pub Quiz style Triva to QuickDraw.
Hettie and Shara, Whatever Your Dose
It’s something that entreprenuers Hettie and Shara have noticed this week too.
The creaters of Whatever Your Dose both say that, ironically, social distancing has already made them more sociable.
‘In the last week, I’ve had drinks with at least 15 people I would never normally get to see in months, all via Houseparty,’ Shara said. ‘It seems crazy that a global pandemic was what it took to get me socialising with old friends regularly again.
‘Normally there’s just so much that gets in the way: travel, family plans, kids, work. But now weekends are all about group Houseparty hangs, with drinks. Who needs a pub anyway?’
How could isolation actually improve our friendships?
The sudden influx in social engagements and the need for more face-time with friends isn’t surprising. Humans are social creatures. If you take away the majority of our physical interactions, we are going to start to feel those cravings really quickly.
‘We are, by nature, designed to care and support each other and share resources needed not only for survival but as a way of thriving in the world,’ explains Kirsty Lilley, CABA mental health specialist.
‘Privacy and times of reflection are helpful for us to maintain equilibrium, but isolation for long periods of time can be detrimental to our emotional health and can cause great distress.
‘It’s more important than ever that we pay close attention to our friends at this time especially when we’re missing the physical contact of being with people who help us to feel safe and a part of something bigger than ourselves.’
Kirsty says that isolation and social distancing can actually provide a fantastic opportunity to strengthen your relationships, and help your friendships flourish.
She says that the best friendships rely on a reciprocal flow of care and attention – and now we all have more time to give our friends the care and attention they deserve.
‘This may be a time that we re-evaluate how important our closest friendships are to us and make extra effort to keep connected,’ says Kirsty.
‘It’s often said the we can’t choose our family, but we can choose our friends and build up a close community of support, especially if your family are not able to give you what you need.
‘Family relationships may come under pressure at this time as we are cooped up together, friendships can provide an anchor, a place of solace, and as importantly humour and perspective to get us through the days and weeks ahead.’
We don’t have a clear picture about how long isolation or social distancing will have to go on for, but we do know that we are all in this together, which pulls us closer at the same time as it keeps us physically apart.
‘Try to see yourself as part of an interconnected system of friendships and acquaintances,’ suggests Kirsty, ‘shifting yourself from self-focus to system focus, which recognises that collaboration commonly results in better and healthier outcomes.
‘We tend to see our friends in the same way over and over again and can become complacent in terms of how we view their characters, but stay curious as people may surprise you with how they rise to the challenges in helpful ways and other people may need to lean on you for support.
‘People can change and this crisis may provide opportunities for people to develop and show many talents and skills that rejuvenate friendships in ways we hadn’t considered.’
Tips for improving your friendships during social distancing
Kirsty has provided some expert pointers on how to use this time to build up your friendships and develop your social circle – because you’re going to need your friends now more than ever.
Aim to communicate face-to-face or voice-to-voice as much as you can using the joys of modern technology.
Facial expressions and voice tone can help us to feel safe and loved and we are biologically designed to respond to the facial expressions/vocal tone of those we are closest to. Texts and instant messages are OK, but don’t replace seeing someone’s face on a video call.
Listen with more empathy and aim to see things from others’ perspectives and communicate this attempt at understanding.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support from your friends, it may help them to feel needed and of course give you a more balanced perspective. The anxious brain is great at catastrophising. Also let them know that’s it’s OK to give you a shout if needed.
Get together online for coffee and cake chats or wine o’clock is a favourite of mine with a few close pals, cooking together might be fun online or eating a meal together.
Think of the things that you normally enjoy together and see if you can convert to an online experience.
Be prepared for some rejections along the way.
Offering help doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to accepted and when people are anxious they may feel a little overwhelmed with all the constant messaging and attention.
Have open conversations about times when its best to reach out, the regularity of contact and the type of contact that’s more helpful and safe.
This may be a time to focus on what matters. Relationships are the way we will pull through this time. There may there be some fallouts that can be healed by the offer of some support and help.
Have open conversations with friends, be curious, ask questions about what matters to them and acknowledge what they are concerned about.
Increase acts of random kindness at this time, send cards, write a letter (old fashioned, I know), offer to get some shopping, run errands if possible and sensible.
Reflect on past adventures and make time to plan what you will do when restrictions are lifted. Vision boards are great for this! The fun is in the planning and preparation.
Friendships are more important than ever and we are all going to need to pull together.
Think of this time apart as an opportunity to show your friends just how much they matter to you, and we will all come out the other side of this stronger.