By JD Hollyfield
Two years ago, we all learned a new vocabulary word, social distancing. Many friendships were put on the back burner as people attempted to “maintain a distance of six feet or more.” Social media feeds dried up. Entertaining photos of groups of friends or family and exotic places were replaced with snarky memes and snapshots of all things happening inside our households. Having drinks with friends or even an office party over Zoom became a thing. However, a couple years later, things have slowly changed. So, like Punxsutawney Phil, we think February is the perfect time to poke your head out and start connecting again.
So many of us miss the plentiful and easy to come by personal interactions. Zoom calls and texting just don’t have the same effect as the in-person ones. Thankfully, these virtual experiences have kept us all present in each other’s lives, but we are soooooo over them! I long for the interactions where we put down our phones, get off our couches, and wear something other than yoga pants. We are probably a bit out of practice with face-to-face interactions though.
Now, as the world starts to come back to life, you might find yourself asking, how do I rekindle friendships? How do I make new friendships? I’ll be the first to admit that I find making new friends difficult. It’s nerve-wracking and awkward. You ask questions to find out if your own interests gel or mesh with your new friend’s. For those of us with kids, we start with that, but a person without kids may not find a deep connection with a busy mom. (See the Profile Section on page 30 for how to connect with other moms.) An avid book reader may not find their best friend in someone that enjoys the fast-paced entertainment scene. Even if intimidating, finding our way back to in-person relationships is important and vital for our mental health.
We thought about what it takes to start anew with friendships. Since we feel like kids again in that sense. We searched locally for a mental health professional to help guide us through this process and ended up learning quite a lot from one that typically counsels children. That could work for us. Yes. Go on…
Kirsten Book, PMHNP, FNP-BC, is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner in her own practice. She works with people of all ages, but her focus is on ages 10 to 18. She tells us that her patients are learning more about interacting outside of their home and testing boundaries for reactions. “I advise people to get out of their comfort zone and literally get out of the house. Go up to a person and say ‛hi.’ You have to open yourself up and be mentally prepared for them to say no and think through how you will handle it.”
Kirsten also adds that as human beings, we thrive on connection with others. We are not designed to be alone for long stretches of time. Through connections, we learn trust and intimacy. Having a healthy relationship with someone can bring joy, as well as conflict, that we all learn how to deal with. “Connections make you feel validated, happier, provide health benefits, and could help your longevity. It has been proven, that social connection can help lower anxiety and depression and can help us regulate our emotions. We have been living in a time of true disconnection. While technology has a use to help us with basic communication to survive, the computer and phone screens disconnect us from ourselves and others. Connection is not a want or a desire, but a basic need to survive. Technology has taken over the job of connecting others, when, nothing can replace true in-person connection.”
Christy Hughes, a local mom and business owner of Christy Lee Photography, tells us about her own approach. She advises people to look if there is a neighborhood, school, or mom’s group that you could join and if there is not one, think of starting one. “When we moved to our new residence in Naperville, my neighborhood had a mom’s group that met once a week. This was where I met a lot of friends before my children had even started elementary school. My husband was also then able to meet other dads and get a lot of great advice on what sports to sign our three boys up for.”
She tells us that she works on putting herself out there in every situation. She uses her children’s activities to help. “I have three boys. All of them are in sports in Naperville, and I have met so many new and amazing moms and families through each of the teams that they have been on.” In effect, she is doing exactly what Kirsten recommends. Christy is open to new interactions, is intentional about leaving her house, and finds new connections through varied interactions.
Kirsten and Christy individually remind us that it can take a while to feel normal again but to ease your way back into familiar things you used to do and enjoy. Friendships are beneficial to our mental and emotional health. Our community is steeped in varied things to do, so take a page from your son’s or daughter’s book and keep an open mind when you meet someone. Just like when you were on the playground, it’s normal to be nervous or awkward.
If you are in need of assistance, the Crisis Hotline for DuPage County is 630-627-1700. There is a qualified mental health professional a phone call away 24 hours a day/7 days week.