‘Socialdistancing’ wasn’t terminology we were using in everyday life until COVID first swept through the globe in the early months of 2020. In January of this year we were still saying things like ‘airport’ and ‘minibreak’ and wondering how to get out of going to cousin Jan’s baby shower. They were simpler times full of hugs and school pick-ups and pointless 4pm boardroom meetings. And then came the global pandemic and with it, the now most overused word in the English language, ‘isolation’.
Suddenly, we were home-schooling (which let’s be honest, no parent signed up for) and keeping kids indoors.
Board meetings became Zoom meetings as we set up home offices in the most respectable corner of our bedrooms.
The hospitality and events industries closed down overnight, and across the world, people tried to recreate the atmosphere of a pub quiz from their homes with Facetime, Uncle Terry and a 6 pack of lager. There was great societal upheaval, the likes of which we had never seen before and the full psychological effects of which we don’t yet know.
What we do know is that more than ever we are leaning on technology to stay in touch. The app Houseparty reported 50 million downloads in April 2020 becoming the No. 1 Social app in 82 countries almost overnight.
Despite this, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ has reported that 28% of women and 16% of men reported feeling lonely as result of the pandemic. The truth is, COVID has shifted things socially for us. How we socialise, relate and communicate to each other has changed. Some of us have felt the negative effects of isolation, some of us have loved it.
Some of us are thriving at home, some of us are climbing the walls.
As parts of the globe tentatively re-socialise and open cafes and schools, others are still in and out of lockdown. Many people are still working from home and we are all coming to grips with the new norm. So how have our relationships been impacted?
According to Relationships Australia 42 percent of people experienced a negative change in their relationship with their partner during COVID restrictions.
Suddenly spending every waking moment with your one true love becomes one true pain in the proverbial. Challenges with home schooling, working from home and economic stress have taken their toll.
Of course, we must tip our hats to those couples who have come out of this stronger and with completed 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles smugly framed as a memento.
Without doubt, the stresses of COVID have either exposed cracks or cemented foundations.
For my clients who might be struggling in their romantic relationships, I encourage them to sit down weekly and have a ‘meeting’. In business, we have weekly and quarterly meetings. We go through rolls, budgeting, performance etc. Yet so few of us bring this level of attention to our most important working relationship, our romantic one. Don’t be afraid to bring focus to your relationship and remember, communication is key.
It would appear that for the singles out there, the outlook is good. As a single myself, I can report first-hand that COVID appears to have had a spring-cleaning effect on the dating apps, with the ‘hook up’ culture taking a back seat (like, literally sitting in the boot) to those who are genuinely looking for connection.
“It’s an excellent time for singles to date,” said Helen Fisher, the chief scientific adviser to Match.com. “People have time. And most importantly, they have something to talk about.”
Yep, now we talk about global pandemics instead of sending emojis. It’s a step in the right direction!
I advise my single clients to take this time to really work out what they want from their next relationship and what they need to heal from their past one. To hear more on the subject, check out this podcast episode of Unashamedly Human called Single in Iso.
New levels of communication have had to be reached since working from home and the Zoom revolution has not only challenged us not speak over each other but has made way for sweatpants to make a huge comeback.
Many of my friends have reported a more rounded and humanising understanding of their colleagues now that they know what their home office/bedroom looks like and can readily identify their cat’s meow for food. But without doubt, team bonding is harder online, and many are missing the social aspect of office life. We might miss Friday night drinks, but do we miss waking up on Saturday morning with vague but disturbing memories of the night before’s antics? Probably not.
We can still have fun though and using breakout rooms on Zoom to facilitate quiz night’s or opening meetings with a quick dance party can help keep spirits high. If you are a team leader, make time fortnightly check in with individual team members. Let them know that you are there to listen if they are struggling and have helplines and organisations that you can refer them to should they need extra support. It’s important to create a safe space for people to share their vulnerabilities.
As a single woman living on her own, I have relied on friendships more than ever throughout this year. I haven’t always felt like talking, but I’ve known someone would pick up the phone if I called. I haven’t always wanted to have a Netflix party, but it’s been nice to know the feature was there. I haven’t always wanted to work out at home, but it’s been great to be able to Zoom into live classes at the same time as my friends.
There is no denying that “being connected to others is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression” (Beyond Blue) and so this year, I have cherished friendship more than ever before. It has also been a great chance to really examine my friendships. Which ones have I been ‘too busy’ for in the past that have been amazing to rekindle in iso? Who am I kinda dreading seeing again when the pubs reopen and do I really need that person in my life?
For the friends you decide you do want to keep, I suggest making a real effort to check in with them, whether they’re in lockdown or not and whether they seemed fine the last time you spoke to them or not. Times are turbulent times and things are changing rapidly, including our emotions.
It is an interesting thing to observe how communities have coped with the global pandemic. Unlike with localised trauma (like flooding or shootings) COVID is universal. Everyone is affected so we are unable to rally around a certain community that is depleted of energy or resources. All communities are suffering. On top of that, the often-asymptomatic virus spreads quickly and so everyone poses a threat and the only way to protect ourselves is to separate from each other. This psychology (I’m in this on my own) is what led way to the great toilet roll shortage of 2020 as people began to hoard when the first rounds of lockdown were announced.
But despite this, we have seen communities come together in ways that warm even the most sceptical hearts.
From singing from the balconies in Italy, to clapping the NHS in England and rainbows and bears in the windows of Australia, we have seen solidarity and love.
There are so many ways you can contribute to your community. Pay it forward by paying for an extra latte at your local café; contribute kindly to your local Facebook groups, offer to help those at risk by doing their supermarket shop or picking up their prescriptions, check in on your neighbours or simply smile at a stranger.
Even though 2020 has given us a fair share of stress, when we choose to focus on love and not fear, we can make a difference not just in our own lives, but in the lives of those around us too.
Emily Chadbourne, founder of The Unashamedly Human Hub, a 6 month transformational lifestyle programme, is a Melbourne based life coach, author and international speaker. Originally from London, Emily has years of behavioral education experience which helps her guide clients through personal and business transformations.