I hear you thinking: "But Mary Grace, there’s nothing selfish about prioritizing your mental health!" UMMMM, I know this school of thought; I got my PhD in self care from there. I know we’re all entitled to prioritize rest and that setting up boundaries is necessary for our wellbeing and yadda yadda yadda. To which I rebut: If we’re giving ourselves the kindness and grace of prioritizing self care, should we maybe also care about, I don’t know...the friend who now thinks you hate her or the sibling who hasn’t heard from you in two weeks and is worried sick? I know empathy is in short supply right now, but the pandemic isn't personally victimizing just you.
So, if you too find yourself looking for the right way to re-emerge from a self-imposed social sabbatical, we’ll address that in a second. But first let’s discuss the valid reasons why you might be pulling away in the first place.
"During winter and through this pandemic, many people have turned inward and begun to really enjoy their time with themself and within their home and as a result may have become less connected than they would've been if they were seeing friends at work everyday," says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. "Individuals become less apt to answer messages when it becomes a routine and automatic rather than a message that gives truly needed information."
On the effed-up flipside, we’re more constantly connected to others despite being separated. I’ll go days without seeing another human, who isn’t one of my parents, IRL. That leaves our devices as the only means of being in touch with everyone, and in a weird way, it creates an uptick in those exhaustive faux-social exchanges.
"Since right now most of our interactions with others are virtual, many people are experiencing social fatigue," says therapist Michele Burstein, LCSW. "People are spending all day in Zoom meetings and staring at a screen after work, and we now, more than ever, are looking to get away from screen time."
Add to that the fact that, well, we’re not really doing much of anything right now, so you might not even feel like you have a whole lot to share when you do connect with loved ones. And suddenly, harmless questions like "What have you been up to?" become baseline frustrating, and possibly daunting, especially as we feel closed off from the outside world. Like, if a third-tier friend asks me that when my entire life is working, drinking, and watching Late Night with my dad, I don’t want to dignify it with a response. And as a result, I might let a message like that go unanswered for far too long.
But again, there’s a difference between detaching from technology for your mental health for a few days, and completely ignoring the people you love. I know empathy is in short supply right now, but we’re all having a tough time here. So if you’re looking to make your triumphant comeback but feel blocked by the thought of having to explain yourself, try making your entrance short and sweet.
"If you feel as though you've genuinely ghosted or ignored someone for some time, I recommend owning the behavior," says Teplin. "Let them know you've been feeling X so you did Y, and ensure they know it was not meant to be negative. I find that being a bit unavailable is a great way to recharge and remain in touch with yourself rather than letting outside forces dictate feelings, preferences and decisions.”
It doesn’t have to be a terribly complex script, you can go with something as breezy as, "Hey, I’m sorry I’m just getting back to you now, I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed with work that I’ve become a bit of a tech hermit." And then keep it moving. If there are genuinely hurt feelings, you might have to talk it out a little, but ultimately, we’re all in this sinking ship together. Most people will have compassion if you let their "What’s up?" go stale for a few days.
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