With lockdown restrictions easing and warmer weather around the corner, chances are that your inbox is filling up with invitations for alfresco gatherings. The slow return to normality is definitely something to be cherished but don’t beat yourself up if the thought of socialising is tinged with anxiety and a sense of unease.
A year is a long time and for many of us the dark winter months have been spent mostly in the confines of our own homes. Add in the Zoom fatigue that took hold as the novelty of connecting with friends and family via a screen wore off, and we are woefully out of practice when it comes to face-to-face interactions.
And it is not just the introverts among us who feel anxious about the return of group gatherings. Even those who were the life and soul of the party before the first lockdown, are likely to experience a twinge of nerves at the prospect of reconnecting with friends in IRL. Perhaps you feel pressure to be the most gregarious person in the room (or garden) or worry that you will have nothing to say after a year in which every day seemed like Groundhog Day.
Even if you haven’t lost someone close to you, suffered financially or experienced mental health issues, there is no denying that the past year has been traumatic for the vast majority of us. Acknowledging that we have all been affected by the restrictions on our everyday lives over the last 12 months is the first step to regaining your social confidence. Here is our advice for easing yourself back into social situations.
1. Start small
Thanks to Government restrictions limiting group gatherings to a maximum of six people, big parties and events are still on hold at the moment. Rather than facing a roomful of strangers, you can ease yourself into socialising with a small group of close friends. If you still feel nervous, it may help to meet up with one other person on your way to the gathering so you don’t have to arrive by yourself.
2. Be honest
Instead of covering up your nerves by putting on a front or drinking too much, be honest about how you feel. It is very likely that you are not the only one who feels apprehensive about the return to normality.
Infection rates may be declining but we can’t pretend that the Coronavirus has gone away. Perhaps there is someone vulnerable in your household who is still waiting for their second vaccination? Maybe you don’t feel comfortable sharing food with other people? Admitting your fears is not a sign of weakness and opening up to your friends will help you forge stronger and long-lasting bonds.
3. Make an effort
After months of working from home chances are that you have perfected the just-rolled-out-of-bed-look. You don’t have to get dressed up to the nines but simply swapping your loungewear for your favourite jeans and paying a bit of attention to grooming, can do wonders for your confidence.
Another confidence-boosting trick is to have a few topics of conversation prepared in case the small talk dries up. This can be anything from holiday plans (or the lack thereof), films you have watched or recipes that you have tried. Remember to steer clear of topics such as politics, money and religion and do not be tempted to gossip about mutual friends who are not present.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no
While some people have been counting down the days to the ‘rule of six’ and will be eager to throw themselves back into socialising, others may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of meeting up as a group.
You know yourself best and if you need to take a breather and have a night in by yourself, politely decline the invitation. Don’t force yourself to go out because of fear of what others might say or think.
How we react to the new freedoms is very individual and some people will take longer to adjust. Again, honesty is the best policy and, if you don’t feel ready for a group gathering, explain that you would prefer to see your friends individually for the time being.
5. Hold onto the positives
There is no denying that the last year has been brutal in so many ways. Far too many lives have been lost, families have been plunged into poverty and mental health problems are on the rise.
However, lockdown has also forced us to slow down and step away from our treadmill existence of over-packed schedules and diaries filled with commitments. Amid all the tragedies, there have been countless stories of kindness, where people have gone out of their way to help and support each other.
As life slowly returns to normal, don’t be too quick to rush back into your pre-lockdown commitments. Use this time to consider the lessons you have learned about your pace of life and hold onto healthy habits such as making time for hobbies, home-cooked meals and walks in nature.
Written by Åse Anderson, Head of Communication and Client Relations at The British School of Etiquette