The “lesser” side effects — damage to our personal relationships or social lives, for example — tend to go ignored.
The ability to meet new people organically at coffee shops, concerts, a friend’s wedding or at bars has been stripped away due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, leaving many of us lonely and desperate for human companionship.
“It’s always important to be finding new people in your life,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. “I think that’s a hallmark of a healthy social life.”
The benefits of friendship goes beyond a mental health boost, Poswolsky says, and it can help offset the physical health detriments of loneliness and isolation, which has been pervasive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, new people can introduce us to newer perspectives, which is exactly what some of us might need during a time of monotony and fatigue, he adds.
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Poswolsky recommends making a “friend map,” or writing down the names of people you’ve met only once or twice who you found interesting.
He adds that by visually taking inventory of those people, it’s easier to see who you could potentially ask to hang out with or connect with on Zoom.
Taking virtual classes is another way to build new connections because you have a shared purpose and goal, Poswolsky says.
“It also offers what psychologists refer to as the ‘mere exposure effect,’ where the more you see someone, the more likely you are to like them.”
Poswolsky started an author support group early on in the pandemic, where people met up weekly on Zoom to discuss anything from writer’s block to the publishing process or finding an agent.
Though the support group was only meant to last six weeks, he says some members are still meeting up to remain as accountability partners.
Similarly, Edmonton-based fitness trainer and nutrition coach, Humairah Irfan, created an online program on social media to help women stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though she used social media infrequently prior to 2020, she’s been able to connect with women outside of the country, as well as newcomers.
“Every time you move to a city, you’re always starting from scratch,” she says, adding that she’s moved cities since immigrating to Canada 20 years ago.
“I understand what it means to be friendless and having to find and make your own social circle.”
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Last year, Irfan posted a callout on Facebook for families who have never gone camping before and wanted to learn.
“My family sort of ‘adopted’ them. We showed them how to set up their tents and told them what they would need … and our kids would play on the beach together,” she says.
Minority groups may not know how to do a lot of this stuff and it can be a great way to learn and connect, she adds.
Irfan says she’s been dropping off groceries to people she has met during the pandemic, trying her best to maintain all her new friendships.
Poswolsky recommends acting as a “minister of loneliness in your community,” checking in with your local grocer, neighbour or coffee shop owner.
Some of us may have never known people in our community before the pandemic, but now that we are confined to our neighbourhoods, our “weak ties” may have strengthened, he adds.
“Casual friendships may have emerged because of the pandemic.”
For people who want to make new friends using apps like Bumble BFF or Meetup, Poswolsky recommends moving the friendship off the app, inviting them for a walk or a virtual event.
Conrad Tyrkin, a 29-year-old Vancouver resident who has autism, connects other people with disabilities through virtual events as part of his work through the posAbilities Association of British Columbia.
“A lot of people, especially individuals with disabilities can feel lonely,” he says.
Tyrkin has helped arrange events like “slow dating” or virtual parties, where he has been able to make friends, often talking to them over the phone.
“Tech is used as a waystation, where you find directions, but shouldn’t be treated as the final destination,” Poswolsky says.
He adds that a silver lining of the pandemic is recognizing how important friendship is in our lives.
“And let’s not take it for granted,” he says. “Once the pandemic is over, maybe we’ll make more time for our friends.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. The Lifeline Canada Foundation offers online chat lines to help people experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
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