How To Maintain Your (Six Feet Of) Space Post-Pandemic
👋 Waves From Afar 👋
Across the world, countries, cities, and citizens themselves are having uniquely distinct experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its effects, and aftermath. Over a year of isolation and restricted interactions has left communities eager to reunite and heal.
But that recovery looks different for everyone. For every person enthusiastically anticipating a party, there is one anxious about its invitation. While much has been made about the world “opening back up,” less has been said to those who’d prefer to keep the lid on—if only for a little longer, just until we’re comfortable!
Whether we’d like to maintain this once-mandatory space because we’ve developed a newfound appreciation for our alone time or are still feeling unsure about public safety, reasons vary and are valid.
Prior to the pandemic, I often found myself overwhelmed with plans and promises I’d made with and to others; what a secret relief it was to have a legitimate excuse to ask for a rain check once the #SaferAtHome orders were imposed. With those restrictions lifting, however, I’ll have no shield to hide behind and will have to unapologetically advocate for my own comfort. The onus will be on me to articulate when I’m feeling both burnt out by others’ energy or fiercely in need of community. The pandemic has made me more precious of my personal time and I’d like to continue keeping it in my control.
If you’ve been feeling the same, here are a few tips on how to do so.
Prioritize Our Personal Time
When the pandemic first emerged, it uprooted our rituals and routines. Our days had once been defined by where we went and who we saw; suddenly unable to do either, our packed schedules were replaced with free time. Lots of it. (Too much of it?) So we tried our hands at making bread, threw Zoom parties for every occasion, and watched full television series in single sittings.
While we may have felt aimless at first, scrambling to make sense of and bring purpose to our newfound space, many of us eventually found our footing—some in the form of artistic hobbies and journaling practices, daily walks and earlier bedtimes. Whether or not we wanted to, we spent more time with ourselves and, hopefully, saw some benefits. In order to maintain these lifestyle changes post-pandemic, Saba Harouni Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist suggests we stay intentional about our schedules.
“We may receive more social invitations, be asked to return to the office, or just find that there are more demands on us than we’ve become used to,” says Lurie. In order to get ahead of the overwhelm, Lurie suggests that we set aside (or even manually mark) blocks of time on our calendar, just for us. “We can have quiet time or spend it doing things that are particularly rewarding or restorative.”
The choice is ours, but it is essential.
Practice Saying “No” Or “Maybe Later”
Isolation can make anyone excited—excited to see friends & family, to travel, to hug! And understandably so. But because everyone’s level of comfort is different when it comes to congregating again, we need to understand others’ boundaries as well as our own. One of the most direct ways to do so, though not always the simplest, is to say no.
It’s famously hard for humans to say no. The New York Times notes a multitude of reasons: we believe the word feels confrontational and threatening; we’re afraid it will result in us missing out on opportunities and adventures (more on that later). We are a naturally social species and operate best with reciprocity.
So we have to strengthen our “no” muscle, as Lurie refers to it. But first, when presented with a request, she suggests we check in with ourselves, and ask with honesty if it’s something we truly want to do or just feel obligated to. Once we determine that truth, we can begin considering exactly how we’ll break the news.
Luckily, best-selling trauma author of “How To Heal”, Jessi Beyer, offers a three-step conversation that helps enforce our ideals without angering others. This method can be used when we want to decline a social invitation, or even if we have loved ones who don’t necessarily understand our need for personal space.
“First, start by saying something nice,” says Beyer. “Then state what’s not working or what’s wrong with the situation. Finally, close with a concrete instruction for what to do instead, an alternative that could work for the both of you.” This last step, says Beyer, ends the conversation on a good note and allows our boundaries to be respected and the other’s wishes to be honored.
Here are two examples:
“Hey Sarah! Thanks so much for inviting me to your birthday party tonight. Unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to throw myself back into group activities yet—I know, I know, I’m still an introvert. [Insert eye roll or wink face here.] How about we go on a walk this weekend so we can celebrate your birthday in a more private setting?”
“Grandma, it’s been so long! I’m so thankful you’re excited to see me and want to give me a hug. Because we’re still coming out of the pandemic, I don’t feel comfortable with such close physical contact yet. How about we give each other air hugs instead?”
Additionally, Beyer notes that using “I” statements can help prevent the recipient from becoming defensive.
Confront Feelings of FOMO
As certain as we might be that home is where our heart is, witnessing others’ experiences on social media can still ignite in us tinges of FOMO. This fear of missing out is the anxiety that stems from the belief others are having rewarding experiences while we are not present.
It’s human nature that, aside from basic necessities like food and shelter, our need for inclusion and social interaction ranks high. So if we begin to feel this internal conflict of wanting to maintain our space yet are feeling anxious about being excluded, Beyer offers a visualization exercise to provide clarity.
“First, imagine yourself standing in front of two doors,” says Beyer. “Through one door is staying home, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, or whatever else you like to do with your time alone at home. Through the other door is going out with your friends and participating in whatever activity you saw them doing on social media.”
Once pictured, we are to then envision ourselves stepping into the scenario of our choice. “Are you excited? Relieved? Regretful? Calm? Peaceful? Bored?” asks Beyer. “Whatever that is, take note.”
The answer is our gut reaction and will often tell us where we truly want to be.
It’s likely that the independent, introverted, and cautious will eventually—or even soon!—return to lives that closely resemble their pre-pandemic ones. But, until then, we can have autonomy over our comfort and feel empowered in communicating such.
Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!