Interacting Safely in a Post-COVID World
At this point, it’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on all of our lives. One of the major aspects of daily life that has been drastically changed is social interaction.
Isolating due to illness, and simply staying home more to avoid infection, have greatly changed the social aspect of most people’s lives. In some cases, the pandemic has led to complete isolation for people who are immunocompromised or simply extra-vigilant about avoiding the virus.
Extended isolation is not good for anyone’s mental health: humans are social creatures, and we need one another. In fact, spending too much time alone can put anyone at risk of increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
Healthy, positive social interaction is a cornerstone of a healthy life for your mind. How has the pandemic changed this for us?
The presence of masks and other PPE have been proven to cause difficulties reading facial cues in the way we’re accustomed to.
For example, when someone’s lower face is covered by a mask, it’s easier to identify negative emotions than positive ones– we miss out entirely on seeing someone’s beautiful smile, but we can easily understand from a furrowed brow.
As a result, it’s easy to miss nuance or misinterpret people’s behaviors, which could cause further isolation and even mistrust between people.
Keeping our distance
As the pandemic emerged, causing mass tragedy across the globe, people viewed one another as potential safety threats. Anyone unfamiliar to us could infect us with COVID-19, which means we make an extra effort to stay away from people we don’t know.
Even pre-pandemic, people tended to stay physically closer to their peers, friends, and families; the need for personal space diminishes when we’re around people who we know and trust. Throughout the pandemic, that has mostly stayed the same.
However, the distance between us and strangers, or people we don’t know as well, has increased. This has the potential to completely eliminate positive, friendly interactions between people who don’t already know each other well.
Additionally, physical touch is a very important part of human socialization. We shake hands, hug, and kiss; all of these are important ways that we interact with one another. Because of the pandemic, these types of touch have been all but eliminated, especially between people we don’t know well.
So how can we move past all of this and still interact positively but safely? We’ve compiled a list of ways you can engage positively with others while still prioritizing your safety.
1. Pay attention to body language.
The presence of masks and other PPE and safety gear makes it difficult to interpret emotions properly. Try to display emotion in a way that’s clear even despite the presence of a mask.
This might mean being extra-cognizant of our body language, and not trying to rely on facial expressions alone to communicate with others.
2. Try not to assume the worst
This is good advice anytime, but especially now. Because we are more likely to interpret negative emotions from people wearing masks, we should try not to assume that the people we are speaking with are feeling negatively about us.
Make an effort to communicate about feelings rather than reading emotional cues from a partially obscured facial expression.
3. Enjoy gatherings in safer places.
We can make it a point to gather and socialize in larger spaces or outdoors, where we are less likely to be in close contact with one another but can still meaningfully interact and enjoy each other’s company.
4. Keep it quiet
Noisy places are often crowded, which is a risk factor in itself. But when speaking to one another in a place with a lot of ambient noise, we tend to lean closer to speak into each other’s ears. This, in addition to speaking louder than usual, can transmit more aerosol particles between us, increasing our risk of infection.
With cases still high, and variants still emerging, it’s unclear how long the pandemic will continue affecting our daily lives. But we can always keep in mind that it’s possible to enjoy the company of others while keeping ourselves safe.
If you’re dealing with isolation and its associated mental health issues, you’re not alone. Many of us are feeling this way. Speaking with a licensed therapist can be a huge, positive step on the road to feeling better. We would be honored to work with you. Take charge of your mental health – call us today to learn more about our services and find a therapist near you.
SPP is a subset of Chenal Family Therapy, PLC, ACEP Provider Number: 7233