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Learning to socialise again during pandemic

Has Covid-19 impacted our social skills and what can people do to help?

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Annette Coffey, psychotherapist and counsellor, based in Enniscorthy

Annette Coffey, psychotherapist and counsellor, based in Enniscorthy

Annette Coffey, psychotherapist and counsellor, based in Enniscorthy

goreyguardian

June usually signals the start of the social season, from attending school graduations to weddings, patrons and family barbecues and summer festivals and GAA matches.

Because of Covid, however, and the lockdown that lingered from Christmas up until now, our social lives have been almost at a standstill.

Now that hotels have opened up, and with restaurants and pubs open for outdoor service, albeit with restrictions, what does this mean in terms of feeling safe in this 'new normal' as we gradually start to mingle with people from a distance?

While many of us are looking forward to some socialising, spells of Covid-induced isolation could be making people more wary about mixing with others, especially against the backdrop of a virus that has still not gone away.

Annette Coffey, a psychotherapist and counsellor based in Enniscorthy, said that, in her experience of talking with clients, some people are feeling unsettled about re-engaging with society.

'It's a very common issue, feeling nervous and fearful around meeting people,' she said. 'Simple things like going to the hairdressers can seem overwhelming.

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Deirdre Leacy of Peace of Mind in Ferns

Deirdre Leacy of Peace of Mind in Ferns

Deirdre Leacy of Peace of Mind in Ferns

'It is important to remember that it took time to adjust and find ways to cope when we were introduced to the lockdown first. Therefore, it's only natural that it will take time to adjust again and find our way back out of lockdown.'

How 'normal' is it then to feel a bit uneasy about going back into social situations?

She said because people are out of the practice of being in a social routine, having been told by the Government and health officials over the last 14 months to stay indoors and avoid being in physical contact with people outside our family unit, is it any 'wonder' then that we have become somewhat 'nervous' about reconnecting with others?

People are not 'alone' by feeling this way, she said.

Meeting up with some friends or family may even feel 'tiring' because people have gotten used to just being in their own company.

'There will be concerns around what will I talk about, or will I be safe?

'Covid has highlighted how vulnerable we are in ways we have never experienced before.'

Ms Coffey said it's about managing your 'expectations' before meeting up with people.

'Be honest. Share how you are feeling. Set some small, manageable targets first such as meeting a friend or family member one-to-one outdoors.

'Perhaps get a haircut first and then gradually build it up from there. Reading up on some topics can be helpful and a useful point of interest for conversations.'

What, then, can people do to manage stress at this time?

'Try to shift your focus to the present moment - plan activities and try not to dwell on the "what if's".

'Breathing exercises, mindfulness and becoming immersed in nature are all wonderful ways to stay in the present moment.

'A good mindful technique is to focus on your five senses and be aware of what it is that you are doing in the moment.

'Try to notice what you can see, hear, smell, feel or taste in that moment. When we get to practice those techniques regularly, it can help us to become grounded and more equipped to respond to situations rather than react to them,' she said.

Deirdre Leacy is a mindfulness, meditation and reiki practitioner for children, teenagers and adults.

She said mindfulness is a valuable tool as it's about 'being in the moment and living in that moment'.

'It's letting go of tension and stress that builds up because of thoughts or feelings and just being present in the now.'

According to Ms Leacy, who operates her Peace of Mind practice in Ferns, the benefits of mindfulness can include reducing stress and anxiety, helping to control strong emotions, better sleep, helping with self-esteem and, ultimately, encouraging a positive mood.

For children and teenagers especially, she said the pandemic has been hard.

'The stop-start events of schooling and home schooling has, in my experience, been challenging, with increased panic, fear, worry and depression among some children and teens.'

'New school rules and strict guidelines are now in a place, which is overwhelming. They must adjust, which can cause anxiety levels to increase and can bring on a lot of different emotions.'

Ms Leacy said the lack of social connections during the pandemic has given some children a lot of self-doubt and the need for more reassurance than ever.

If a child is feeling stressed or anxious, firstly, it's about asking them to notice their breath and to do some breathing exercises, she said.

'Focus on something that is physically in the room to take the focus off their anxiety. It's about doing activities that will help by completing mindful meditations, going to the beach and listening to the waves or the crunch of some stones you're walking on, doing some yoga, physical exercise or movement.'

She said mindful colouring, doing word searches and getting stuck into something that needs concentration, all whilst being aware of your breathing, can also help.

'Breathing is the anchor to allow us be in the present moment.'

Her suggestion for parents and guardians is to try create a 'calm' home, encourage exercise or movement, promote a good sleep routine and healthy eating and cutting back on screen time.

Practicing gratitude can also be helpful.

'By giving more gratitude for everyday things, start with the simplest of things like "I am grateful for this sunny day, the food I eat, the water I drink", as this will encourage a positive mind.'

Finally, she said mindfulness is something all of us can practice daily, especially with the fast pace of life in today's world.

'In our minds, we are likely to have frequent patterns of busy thoughts. But, with practice and patience, our thoughts become less busy, and a calmness becomes more frequent.

'Decreased stress, better mental health, better relationships and greater overall happiness can be the rewards to practicing.'


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