6 ways the pandemic has changed our friendships, and what you can do about it

6 ways the pandemic has changed our friendships, and what you can do about it
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Many of us are dealing with shifting friendships this year as a result of spending less time together because of the pandemic.

From your best friend who’s got an underlying health condition to the co-workers you used to grab lunch with, all kinds of connections are taking a hit this year.

When I asked Sarah Cooper, an LCSW at Dogwood Counseling, if her clients are struggling with the pandemic’s impact on their friendships, she says, “The answer is yes, Y-E-S in all capital letters.”

Beyond not seeing our friends as much as we’re used to, varying levels of comfort with socializing right now are also impacting our relationships.

“We all have such different viewpoints, underlying factors, and belief systems. It’s definitely caused a sense of contention among friends, and it continues to be interesting to navigate,” Cooper says. “There’s a constant questioning of ‘Who’s comfortable with what? What am I comfortable with?’

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“I talk to clients about trying to engage and ask questions with curiosity versus judgment. You can say, ‘Talk to me about what you guys are doing with birthday invites or social gatherings’ versus, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing that. That’s not cool.'”

Here are other ways in which the pandemic is impacting our friendships, plus more expert tips on how to nurture your connections this year:

(1) Some of your friendships may have fizzled

Ellen Herbert, an LCSW with Queen City Counseling and Consulting, says, “In 2020, we might prioritize really taking care of those closer, more emotionally supportive relationships. Then those social, fringe friendships, they’ll either bounce back, or they won’t and you’ll meet new people.  Recognize that everyone is struggling to take care of themselves and might not always have the energy to reach out.”

(2) If you’re looking to grow your network, it’s time to get creative

It’s a tricky time to be settling into a new neighborhood, starting a new job, or finding yourself as a first-time parent. But good news: Herbert says it’s not impossible to build up a new social network, you’ll just need to infuse some creativity into the process.

“Make a suggestion like, ‘Hey, I’m new in town, I’d love to take a socially distanced walk during lunch.’ Being the one to initiate can be hard, but other people may be so overwhelmed trying to keep their head above water that they’re really ready to grasp onto that suggestion,” she says.

(3) Enjoy unexpected friendships

Cooper says that there’s been a friendship bright spot in the midst of this year: Many people are cultivating deeper relationships within pre-existing networks. “A neighbor early on said to me, ‘We’ve moved our hangout from the backyard to the front yard. Last year we wanted privacy, but now we want to see people walking by and say hi from a distance.”

She encourages tapping into groups you’re already a part of to see how you can (safely) strengthen your connections there.

(4) Use this time to learn about your social interaction quotas

“We’re recognizing how much of our social needs are met not just by the people in our inner circle, but by those people that we get to see when we pick up our coffee. It’s those little things we get out of our day-to-day interactions. Some people are becoming more grateful for the closeness that they do have and the people that they’re able to stay in touch with. Others are really recognizing, ‘Wow, I need a lot of social connection to meet my quota,'” says Perrin Jones, an LCMHCA at Queen City Counseling and Consulting.

(5) These needs may shift frequently

“Clients will talk about wanting connection, and understanding that they need connection,” Cooper says. “But they’re also feeling really overwhelmed with other responsibilities like working from home, kids, parents, pets, and just not feeling like they have the energy and time to connect with friends. The desire for connection can be all over the board. And it can shift person to person, day to day, and week to week. That’s absolutely normal.”

Cooper adds that your tendency toward introversion or extroversion can play a role, too. “For some people, it’s been harder to maintain those looser friendships. If you’re an extrovert, and it’s energizing to maintain those relationships it’s probably easier, versus if you’re an introvert and that kind of zaps your energy and you’re already feeling pretty drained and exhausted.”

(6) Being fully present is more important than ever

Now that you’re seeing your friends less frequently and in different ways, putting your phone down and really focusing when you do get to spend time together is even more essential, says Johnson.

“Take advantage of mindfully being in the present moment when you do get to be around people. Take advantage of the moments you do get to be connected,” she says.


Related story: The pandemic is making my anxiety soar, and I know I’m not alone

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