By Leigh Weingus
To say that how we interact with others has changed is an understatement. Since social distancing orders were put in place in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coffees, brunches, dinners, happy hours, parties, weddings, sporting events and vacations have all been canceled. These days, interactions with non-immediate family members have mostly been limited to texting, phone calls, and video chats.
I desperately miss seeing my friends, particularly my best friend, who I used to meet for a yoga class almost every Saturday. We would follow this ritual up with coffee and a poke around the boutiques of lower Manhattan. I miss seeing my friends in larger groups, too — the casual dinner parties, the happy hours, the nights out. But every time someone suggests a Zoom happy hour or other version of a virtual “hangout,” I feel a tightening in my chest as my whole body fills with dread.
While I have some introverted tendencies, I’m a social person who very much looks forward to seeing my friends as often as our busy schedules allow for. So, why am I so resistant to these virtual hangouts? I chatted with a therapist to find out. Here’s what she had to say.
The social pressure to “show up” stresses us out.
While there’s been a lot of noise around quarantine projects, self-reflections and an abundance of self-care acts, for most of us (myself included), this is a downright stressful time. As we wade through layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours and worrying about our own health as well as the health of friends and family members, if you’re not living your best life right now, hey—no one can blame you.
According to Dayry Hulkow, Primary Therapist at Arete Recovery, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group, these virtual hangouts often instill in us a social pressure to “show up,” which adds to that stress. And it doesn’t help that for those of us working or studying from home, we’re often on these platforms for less fun purposes all day long anyway.
“For people already using these platforms for school or work, having to attend yet another virtual meeting may feel more like a ‘chore,’” Hulkow explains. “Literally, it may be difficult or even impossible for the brain to differentiate between ‘work’ and ‘play’ if it is all done through a screen from our bedroom or living room.”
Plus, there are correlations between insomnia and social media use and anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. While video calls can be a way to connect, it’s still not the most authentic form of connection you can have, which doesn’t always feel great.
Try embracing the one-on-one video call and the word “no.”
If these multi-person “hangouts” feel a little awkward or overwhelming, that’s because they are. Technological blips happen, internet connections cut out, people talk over each other. If these hangouts leave you feeling exhausted, disconnected, and dreading the next one, try scheduling a one-one-one FaceTime call instead. “One-on-one calls or FaceTime sessions may seem more manageable for the average person,” Hulkow says. “A huge group Zoom hangout could be rather overwhelming, especially for the novice user.”
If those group video chat invitations keep rolling in, consider yourself lucky — a lot of people want to “hang out” with you! Then work on saying no, even if you don’t have excuses of having places to go or people to see. “These are trying times for most of us, and it is necessary to take excellent care of ourselves not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally,” says Hulkow. “Just because we’re stuck at home under quarantine doesn’t mean we have ‘nothing else going on.’ Many of us are still studying and/or working even if it is through online platforms.”
Above all, remember that taking care of yourself comes first. You can say no and provide an explanation, or you can just say no. “I always tell my clients that ‘no’ is a ‘complete sentence,’” Hulkow says.
Long story short: It’s perfectly normal to be burned out on all those video chats, so if you’re feeling that way, don’t beat yourself up. Look out for your own sanity first and foremost, and don’t be afraid to say no.
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