How to thrive in the post-vaccine age
Picture this: you arrive at a venue, confused about keeping your mask on or taking it off, decide itâ€™s fine to do without (youâ€™re all vaccinated so it makes sense, right?), enter (but the mask is still in your handâ€”just in case) and then wonder how to greet the host. Do you shake hands? Do you hug? Perhaps the elbow thing? Once youâ€™re over the awkward formalities, you find your place in a corner and spend most of the time looking at a phone screen, barely making eye contact, while simultaneously chatting up a storm, unloading a yearâ€™s worth of conversation in one evening.
If, like me, you spent a major part of last year actively distancing yourself socially and trying to isolate as much as possible before getting the vaccine, then your first forays back into the real world were probably like this. The few gatherings I had to attend during the year, pre-vaccination, didnâ€™t prepare me for this re-entry into society. Over the past few weeks, Iâ€™ve been noticing myself in social situations and I appear to have become a neanderthal exiting a cave to encounter civilisation for the first time. All social cues have been lost and several priorities have been changed.
I must force myself to maintain eye contact during a conversation and must practically beg myself to resist the urge to scroll on my phone while around company. Most of my social interactions now comprise of showing my friends all the memes Iâ€™ve stored in my phone over the year. Speaking to others about this made me realise that Iâ€™m not alone in this. Many of us feel that we need to re-educate ourselves when it comes to socialising.
Man truly is a social animal. A few months of isolation and weâ€™ve forgotten how to behave. I always used to wonder why people marooned on islands in movies (Castaway, Robinson Crusoe, etc.) would always end up acting oddly. This past year gave me the answer. Iâ€™m pretty sure someone somewhere is already doing a study to analyse our behaviour during the pandemic.
In case youâ€™re struggling with these social cues, then ease into your interactions. Meet up with a smaller group of people first; go out on walks (when the weather permits); make a conscious effort to put your phone on the side and have real conversations; dress up (itâ€™ll make you feel good, trust me!); donâ€™t feel guilty if you need to cancel on someone; and most importantly, make sure youâ€™re checking in on your mental health.
Not all of this has been bad though.
While spending time removed from society has temporarily diminished my ability to be my usual gregarious self, it has also allowed me an invaluable opportunity to truly be comfortable in my own company. Last year a wise friend of mine proclaimed, â€œSocial isolation will be hard for most people, because they canâ€™t stand themselves.â€ I saw this play out on social media repeatedly. Many flouted strict curfews just to escape being alone. Author Jules Renard once said, â€œBeing bored is an insult to yourself.â€ And I agree whole-heartedly. Coming out of isolation I have learnt that there are depths inside me I have yet to explore and ideas I have yet to uncover. However, it has also taught me another crucial lesson that is going to form the mantra for my â€˜social animal 2.0â€™: putting myself first.
It seems simple at first, but this basic tenet of well-being is one that we frequently dismiss out in the â€˜real worldâ€™. Granted there are times when you must put the needs of others before you but finding joy in focusing on myself is one thing Iâ€™m not letting go of. Time to reflect inwardly has shown me what my priorities in life are and what they ought to be; who I want to spend time with; how I want to live my life; what I want to expend energy, time and money on.
The pandemic is not even close to being overâ€”with the Delta variant on the rise and the disparities in vaccination rates across the worldâ€”yet it appears that the time has come to venture back into the world, lest we forget how being â€˜humanâ€™ feels like. Restrictions are being lifted, even as caution is recommended. Re-entering into the folds of society brings back with it all the anxieties and stressors from the time before our world changed; it also brings opportunity to change who we are and emerge as a new kind of social animal.
Dear reader, I urge you to join me in personal introspection and truly understanding what that means for you. Last year when we shut ourselves indoors, we were bombarded with statements telling us to grab this opportunity and slow down, to enjoy things we didnâ€™t normally have time for. Now, as the fog of the year rolls out, itâ€™s time that we make conscious choices of who we want to be. Iâ€™ve made a little checklist to help you with that:
- Relationships: Are you happy in your various relationships? Do you need to build bridges or rebuild them? Or will simply letting go of toxic ones be in your best interest?
- Work: Does it serve your needs beyond just the financial? Are you fulfilled?
- Purpose in Life: The grand question, I know, but if youâ€™ve been lucky enough to survive a pandemic, this question deserves some serious consideration.
- Bucket List: Make a list of all that you planned on doing and now get started with it.
- Health: Focus on your mental and physical healthâ€”I cannot emphasise this enough.
The Social Animal 2.0 should be someone who puts themselves first, is kind and empathetic to others, is focused on their own goals and can reduce the pessimistic noise around them. The Social Animal 2.0 is one that truly understands the â€˜socialâ€™ aspect of being human and leads with compassion. Itâ€™s one life, and if weâ€™ve been lucky to survive the worst of the pandemic, we owe it to ourselves to make it count.