With the easing of pandemic restrictions, many of us will break out of our somewhat sheltered lives to resume favourite activities. But after enduring more than two years of cautious conduct, we may muddle along for awhile trying to find our level of comfort while also respecting the choices of others. Decisions will differ, for instance, on whether to wear a mask or not, go into full capacity venues or not, travel or not, hug or not. Psychologists say venturing out with less restrictions in place will exercise our tolerance for uncertainty and risk.
It may also test the sociability of people who acquired an appreciation for solitude during the pandemic. Five days of intense socializing with relatives exhausted me. By the time they departed, I could not bear the sound of my voice. My out-of-body, self critic whispered: “Oh no. Is she (me) really going to tell, or retell, that story? Do we really need to hear about …?”
Lack of practice compromised my stamina because sociability is like muscle mass: use it or lose it. However, just as we can establish fitness workouts, we can take measures to get fit, socially.
- Start slowly, seeing an individual or a couple for a few hours once, maybe twice, a week. As our stamina builds, we can expand our socializing in numbers and duration.
- Vary our social regimen: with friends sample different cafés, visit neighbourhoods, museums and galleries, go for walks and talks in nature. Participants in a group formed at the peak of the pandemic say thrice weekly walks in Stanley Park “saved” their lives, by satisfying both social and physical needs.
- In this climate of polarization and negativity, conceiving positive — or even neutral — topics for discussion may not be easy. Keep fallbacks in mind to pivot from contentious issues. We want our social interactions to boost the happy hormones: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.
- If silence descends, don’t rush to fill the air with a new topic or opinion (guilty). Become relaxed with lulls, giving conversations a chance to occur organically.
- Don’t overload our calendars. When we’re not feeling sociable, allow ourselves to retreat into quietude.
Studies show living disconnected from others increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and premature death. Conversely, sociability contributes to better sleep, lower amounts of cortisol (a stress hormone) and improved cognitive function. Let’s get fit to enjoy regular engagements with friends and family. •