Life as we know it has changed. This past weekend I attended a socially distant cookout complete with masked grilling, BYOB, plastic wrapped utensils, and chairs spread around the yard. Coronavirus cases are climbing in many parts of the United States. Most people I know are taking more risks than they have in the last couple of months, yet everyone I talk to is on a different page. Some are seeing family, some are seeing neighbors, others are seeing anyone who will see them. Still others have hardly left their houses since March and aren’t seeing people outside of their immediate family.
Now that summer is in full swing, people are testing the waters to find out if their friends are willing to see them and with what precautions. This article is about the social risks and benefits of seeing friends. My expertise is in communication. I am not an infectious disease expert. Other articles discuss the health and safety concerns of seeing friends.
According to CNBC, new standards for social etiquette are being set in real time and range from requiring friends to get a COVID-19 test before seeing them, taking party guests’ temperatures, or wearing masks while hanging out. When new social rules are made before our eyes, they can be hard to navigate. Below, I explain why conversations to determine how we will hang out with friends are difficult to have, what you should keep in mind if you are planning to hang out with friends, and what you should do if you and your friends are not on the same page when it comes to seeing one another in the new social world in which we live.
Why are conversations about gathering with friends during social distancing orders difficult to have?
These conversations are difficult in part because they are directly tied to our values. Some people are upholding strict precautions including not seeing friends at all, seeing them only outdoors and 6 feet apart while wearing masks, or seeing only certain people while avoiding all others. On the other end of the spectrum, people have resumed something close to pre-corona life, holding and attending crowded social events with no regard for social distancing or sanitation. Others fall somewhere in between. Our choices about the precautions we take and the way we see others reveal our values in regard to health, safety, and privilege.
A mismatch in values can challenge a friendship. Friendships are built on similarities in backgrounds, interests, and values. When people perceive a mismatch in values, they may question the fit of the friendship. Friends may judge one another for having less stringent values when it comes to coronavirus safety or for being too strict or unreasonable in their safety precautions. Friends may feel the need to explain their decisions for being strict or less strict which could involve disclosures they did not want to make about hidden health concerns.
How should people discuss seeing others during a time when exposure to friends/family should be limited?
Only do what you are comfortable with and recognize that those who are good friends will understand and respect your decisions. That said, there is a cost to continuing to avoid or limit exposure to your social network.
Friends who are spending time together are maintaining and growing their relationship while friends who are opting out are missing out. They may be doing the “right” and “responsible” thing, but they are losing out on something else. Take for example a large group of friends who all have kids the same age/grade in school. Those who are willing to hang out have just started up their in-person monthly trivia game again. They are learning about one another, spending quality time, and deepening their relationships. One couple has chosen not to participate due to coronavirus concerns. This couple will be included again in the future but conventional wisdom warns that those who do not show up, stop getting asked to attend over time.
Social network support is critically important during stressful and uncertain times such as the ones we are living in. If you are continuing to stay home and limit your exposure, be sure to keep up the virtual chats and game nights with friends to keep your sense of belonging and support intact.
What if my desire to see others differs from the people in my social network?
Find friends who are on your page and spend time with them. For those who are not, be willing to be the only person wearing a mask at a gathering or wear a mask to make a friend who is wearing one feel more comfortable. A good rule of thumb is to adopt the standards of the most health-conscious or strict person in the group. If one person wants to stay 6 feet away from others and wear a mask, it will be easier for that person to uphold their guidelines and they will feel respected if everyone at the gathering does the same. These types of behaviors will likely strengthen a friendship as people tend to appreciate when others are willing to make sacrifices for them.
My advice for navigating unknown boundaries? If you’ve set up a friend hang, err on the side of caution: Start by wearing a mask when entering another person’s space. If the default is wearing the mask, you’ll be all set if your friend turns up wearing a mask as well. You can then have a conversation about your comfort levels. If you show up sans mask and they are wearing one, you risk making them uncomfortable and put them at risk.
Post-Traumatic Growth During a Pandemic: Is That a Thing?
Can you grow your resilience while we face COVID-19? Should you try?
By Melanie Greenberg Ph.D.
We are living in the midst of the worst pandemic in modern history. COVID-19 has infected more than 4 million people and caused almost 300,000 deaths worldwide. In the U.S. alone, we are close to 80,000 cases. As a result of its life-threatening potential, high levels of contagiousness, and spread throughout the world, this novel coronavirus has severely disrupted life as we know it. As journalist Ed Young writes in The Atlantic about COVID-19:
It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed."
COVID-19 is a threat to our mental health
The mental health effects of the pandemic are yet to be fully determined. The lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers and other essential workers, the fact that COVID-19 disproportionally attacks the elderly, minorities, and other vulnerable groups, as well as the big pre-existing economic gap between rich and poor exacerbates its damaging psychological effects. Journalist Mike Levine, writing for ABC News reported that: "Last month the 'Disaster Distress Helpline' at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) saw an 891% increase in call volume compared with March 2019, according to a spokesman for the agency."
What is post-traumatic growth?
Psychological theories have long suggested that while prolonged traumas can cause untold psychological damage, there is a portion of people who report psychological growth in the face of trauma.
Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) define post-traumatic growth as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances” (p. 1).
Post-traumatic growth has five facets that survivors report experiencing:
In the U.S., we are still in the initial stages of dealing with COVID-19 and so there may not be all that much opportunity for growth yet. When the crisis is over and we finally feel safe enough to process what has happened, post-traumatic growth is more likely. If the economy recovers and people are able to get jobs, they may feel stronger because of mental shifts they made or social support they received that helped them endure. When you don’t have a job and don’t know how to put food on the table, or when you have to risk your life every day in a production line, growth may be the furthest thing from your mind and that is OK.
How to promote post-traumatic growth and resilience in your own life
For those of us who are not in the front lines, or who feel they are out of the most acute danger, it may be useful to think about how we can consciously promote post-traumatic growth in our lives. Below are some strategies for each of the five facets: a greater appreciation for life, closer social relationships, enhanced feelings of personal strength, spiritual growth, and the recognition of new life possibilities.
Greater appreciation for life
Realizing that your life and health are not guaranteed can help you appreciate each day a little bit more. Thinking about people who are worse off than you may help you feel gratitude for being able to work from home, for having a job, or for receiving a loan from the government. Reflect on the support of your colleagues, or of your family and friends, or the resources you find on social media or on podcasts or YouTube. Think about the leadership and hard work of your state’s governor and the protection that has provided you, about the wise guidance of health officials, or the courage of journalists who tell you the truth.
Closer social relationships
This facet of post-traumatic growth may be more challenging because of social distancing guidelines or stay at home orders. Nevertheless, you may begin to feel closer to neighbors, friends, or family who regularly check up on you or whom you are able to help. Working from home may give you a bit more time to talk to friends and family members via the phone or internet. You may spend more time playing and eating with your kids or talking to your teenager.
More personal strength
When you face a difficult challenge that you eventually manage to master or even just survive, you may feel psychologically stronger as a result. Perhaps you didn’t think you could stay at home for so long or face the daily fear of getting infected if you are an essential worker. Doctors or nurses may not have realized their own inner strength to keep trying to save lives in the midst of chaos and crisis. Or you may get up each day and take care of your family despite feelings of depression or severe anxiety.
As Bob Marley said, "You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice."
Stay-at-home orders present challenges to meeting with your spiritual or religious group in person, although Zoom can provide you with a piece of what you would normally get. If you are staying home, this could be a good opportunity to start a meditation practice, to do some spiritually oriented yoga, or to read books and listen to talks and podcasts that enhance your spiritual awareness. Perhaps you could take some time to reflect on the universe, on your sense of a higher power, or on the spiritual values that make your life meaningful. Acts of service like helping feed the hungry, making masks, getting groceries for your elderly neighbor, or helping your child can also deepen your spiritual wellbeing.
Facing a societal crisis like COVID-19 often facilitates a focus on what is most meaningful in our lives and what is less important. Reflecting on how you spend your time might help you realize that you are not making the most of life’s opportunities. You may decide you want to live a healthier lifestyle or be more present with your children. If you are struggling to survive, this may make thinking of new possibilities more challenging and so it may be something that you put off for when things are more stable.
“Although life is full of the experience of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” —Helen Keller
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.