“Gathering again is going to be complicated and possibly uncomfortable. Naming the elephant in the room is the most powerful tool we have. We need to make the implicit explicit. Even if the elephant is just awkwardness, naming what’s happening and making it explicit allows everybody to take a breath.”—Priya Parker, author, The Art of Gathering and guest on the Dare to Lead podcast with Brené Brown
If there was a prescription with the following benefits, would you want it?
- Strengthens your immune system
- Challenges you intellectually
- Sharpens your memory
- Helps you heal more quickly from illness and injury
- Boosts your mood
- Motivates you to engage in physical activity, social and creative engagement, and eat well
- Provides a space for tears and laughter
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? I thought so too! And the amazing thing is that this “prescription” and its benefits are the result of friendships. Yes, friendships!
A recent Harvard research study supports this premise: Friends are good for our health. They also help us manage stress and promote brain health as well as mental health. Similar research shows evidence that social engagement and purpose bring incredible benefits to our health and overall wellbeing.
You’ve likely heard a lot about the negative impact of social isolation and loneliness, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Quarantine as a protective measure to stay safe from infection during the pandemic has contributed to some isolation. And when someone doesn’t have access to or a working knowledge of technology, such as a computer, tablet or smartphone, the connections can become more complicated.
The isolation of quarantine was challenging for many of us. I am grateful to have friends with whom I was able to stay connected via Zoom and FaceTime chats, as well as through physically distanced, masked, in-person outdoor gatherings. These were opportunities to take walks, catch up, laugh, and lift one another’s spirits. Today, we are all fully vaccinated and navigating this “now normal.”
How can we reconnect with friends as restrictions are lifted, vaccinations become more prevalent, and in-person gatherings become safer?
- Pause. Many of us have found the pandemic a time to reflect on what is most important. How does this apply to your friendships? Have you found yourself reprioritizing activities, interests, and where you want to invest your time? Take this into consideration as you reenter social circles and relationships.
- Nurture those friendships. The pandemic has disrupted our social circles. Start slow and reach out with a phone call, email, or text message. Mail a card with a short note. Drop off a meal or your famous banana bread. Let your friends know you’re checking in and would like to get together if it’s comfortable for you and for them.
- Be honest about your preferences and comfort level with in-person meetings. Respect the wishes of others. Be open about what works best for you at this time. Ask them what their preferences are. The weather is improving. Most people are comfortable gathering outside. Many cafes and restaurants have outdoor seating. You can get your order to go and eat at a park. Take a walk. Wear a mask if that is what makes you feel best.
- Pace yourself. This is still fresh and new for everyone. It is perfectly normal to take baby steps as you step back into public life and reestablish in-person interactions. Being social takes energy, and we haven’t been doing a lot of it lately, so take your time. Getting together for an hour over coffee outdoors is a good start. Gathering on your patio with a couple glasses of wine for a chat or taking a walk at a neighborhood park can be a welcome change of pace from what we’ve experienced over the past year.
- Make new friends. This will take time, especially as things begin to reopen. Clubs, community and senior centers, libraries, faith communities, gyms, and volunteer organizations are all navigating the “now normal” along with the rest of us and assessing how to best to reopen and welcome back visitors and participants. Have you rediscovered your love for painting? Eager to join a book group? Value the idea of a support group? You might find a group online first and then make a transition as in-person gatherings start up and become safer.
We’ve all been through a challenging year. Embrace the opportunities to reconnect. Take it slow. Friendships are an essential part of our overall wellbeing.
Contributor Sonia Gilman is a Creative Engagement Specialist for Aging Wisdom, a care management, consultation, and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She recently served as an organizing member of the Creative Age Festival of Edmonds (CAFE) and serves on the Communications Committee at St. Joseph Parish, Seattle.