How to navigate relationships during times of uncertainty

| September 29, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 in 2020 has had a detrimental impact on many Australians’ mental health. Enforced lockdowns, self-isolation, bans on large gatherings and more, have created feelings of fear, anxiety and panic in many of us.

The Medical Journal of Australia found that significant feelings of depression or anxiety were being experienced by 25% of people after just the first month of COVID-19 restrictions.

Australia has worked hard to get the virus under control, and even despite lingering restrictions (which are much more strict in some states than others) there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and the hope that we will soon be able to reconnect with those we care about most, even if some of us may not know exactly when that will be. But how have our relationships with people changed, and how can we navigate our connections, both remote and in-person, during a time of so much uncertainty.

How relationship dynamics have changed due to COVID-19

A huge reduction in interstate flights, 14-day quarantines and lockdowns for hotspot areas have created huge—and long-term—invisible barriers between communities. And on a more granular level, relationships have been put to the greatest test thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

For couples and families restricted to staying at home for weeks and months on end, too much contact has caused serious relationship problems. At the other end of the spectrum, people who haven’t seen their loved ones for such an extended period is creating rifts that may take a long time to repair.

Now that some parts of Australia have started to reopen (while some may face the stress and uncertainty of further restrictions and lockdowns), is it even possible for our relationships to return to normal when we are living in the ‘new norm’ of COVID-19? Here are some tips to reconnecting and maintaining your relationships safely.

Safety is paramount when reforging relationships

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that is no longer impacted by harsh lockdowns, then it’s a good opportunity to get back in touch with friends and family who you might not have spoken to much in recent months.

Everyone is dealing with this pandemic in their own way, and having a friend to listen to your worries, and you listening to theirs, can be enough to relieve some of that pent-up anxiety. So make the time to reforge those connections in whatever way suits your relationship best.

Just remember that while the pandemic is still active, you’ll need to observe the proper social distancing and hygiene governance.

Reconnect with friends and family virtually

For some of us, it will be impossible to physically interact with loved ones for the foreseeable future. Maybe your parents and siblings live interstate or overseas. But it shouldn’t be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’—your friends and family will still want to know how you are handling the situation.

Luckily, we are living in the golden age of technology, which means it’s easier than ever to stay connected. In April, downloads for videoconferencing apps like Zoom were up a whopping 90% on pre-COVID-19 figures. But even something as simple as a text message to your parents or starting a Facebook chat group with your circle of friends can be enough to raise your spirits and help boost that feeling of social camaraderie.

Acknowledge that your work relationships may be different

Many Australians have been lucky enough to work from home during the pandemic (which does come with its own challenges), but many more have been stood down or have reduced hours while they wait to see how their industries will recover.

For people heading back into the office, it could be a very different environment. From staggered rosters to keep fewer people in the building at any one time, to a mix of physical and remote working schedules, work may feel like a completely new place in the coming weeks and months.

That will also impact relationships, so it’s important to recognise these changes and be conscious of how your co-workers may have been impacted by the crisis. Some may have friends or family who have caught the virus, while others may have experienced serious mental health struggles during the lockdown. Others still may have lost their jobs entirely and may feel alone if none of their former co-workers are reaching out to them.

Empathy is key here, as is understanding that fear and anxiety are completely natural responses to an unpredictable global pandemic. It may take time to regain the same level of relationship you had with your co-workers pre-COVID-19.

Be the first one to reach out

So you haven’t heard from your circle of friends for a while, or your weekly calls with the family have fallen by the wayside. Every relationship is a two-sided coin, and it’s easy to fall into the negative headspace of, “Well, if they wanted to speak to me, they would have called me by now.”

Think about it from their perspective—they could be thinking the exact same thing about you. More likely, juggling all the other parts of their life has probably just gotten in the way. Or maybe they are dealing with personal issues completely unrelated to the pandemic.

Making that first move to reconnect isn’t always easy, but the pay-off when you start reconnecting with those you care about most is well worth the effort.

 

How you deal with change will influence your relationships

Life has certainly changed for every Australian, and it may take months or even years for things to return to normal. The key is accepting that sometimes change has to happen, but it’s how you manage that change that will affect how you reconnect with partners, friends and family.

These tips will help you navigate those relationships in a safe manner, for both you and those around you, and hopefully give your mental health a boost during a time when everyone needs a good pick-me-up.

COVID-19 has changed the way we live, how we work and who we spend time with. But with the right mentality and a good dose of technology, you can maintain your relationships with friends, family and co-workers as we come together to overcome this health crisis.

And while you might not be able to control lockdowns or the spread of COVID-19, you can protect your loved ones and your way of life against the unexpected.

 

Sources:

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20200319_covid19-evidence-and-reccomendations.pdf

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2020/mental-health-people-australia-first-month-covid-19-restrictions-national-survey

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-05/coronavirus-is-changing-our-closest-relationships/12180620

https://headtohealth.gov.au/meaningful-life/connectedness/friends

https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others-from-coronavirus-covid-19/physical-distancing-for-coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.computerworld.com/article/3535800/pandemic-leads-to-surge-in-video-conferencing-app-downloads.html

https://www.smartcompany.com.au/people-human-resources/human-resources/coronavirus-australia-working-from-home/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/may/14/unemployment-rate-in-australia-jumps-to-62-due-to-covid-19-as-600000-jobs-lost

https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/10-tips-for-managing-anxiety-during-covid-19/

 

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