Why it’s OK to tell your friends you need space – even during lockdown

Struggling to keep up with your friends at the moment, but not sure how to tell them you need a break from all the Zoom calls? We asked an expert to give us her tips.

At the best of times, our friends can work wonders for our mental health. Most of us will be familiar with the saying, “friends are the family you choose”; the people we surround ourselves with on a daily basis are incredibly important to our wellbeing.

Indeed, for many of us, speaking to our friends throughout the coronavirus pandemic has allowed us to maintain a semblance of normality. Sure, drinks over Zoom might not feel quite the same as meeting your friends at the pub, but being able to have a laugh with familiar faces has certainly been a welcome distraction for plenty of people.

But for others, keeping up with their friends has come at the expense of their mental health. The virtual pub quizzes and endless Zoom calls may have been fun at first, but after a while they become rather full-on. Add to that the fact that many people have been left feeling physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of the pandemic, and it’s no surprise lots of us have been yearning for a bit of space. 

“If you’re feeling the need to take a step back from a friendship or from the near constant stream of social activities happening online, you shouldn’t feel guilty about turning down an invitation or two – because chances are your friends are likely feeling the digital fatigue too,” explains mental health advocate Jo Love.

“So many of us are on high emotional alert right now,” she adds. “We are worrying for ourselves, our families and friends and the world at large, which uses up a lot of precious brain energy.”

Love also highlights that, for those of us working from home, there’s a reluctance to spend our whole evening staring at a screen when we’ve been doing so all day. 

“Virtual interactions can be equally exhausting because they over stimulate our brains,” she says. “Many of us have to be on various video conferencing calls throughout the day for work, so when it comes to our downtime more and more of us are experiencing so called ‘Zoom gloom’ and craving time away from screens and bailing on digital social interactions.”

“Also, we all have that one friend who takes so much of our time and energy at the best of times, we are now finding we just don’t have the emotional capacity at the moment and we need to step back from them temporarily.”

It’s clear that many of us are feeling the need to take a step back from some of our friendships for the time being, but working out how to do that can be pretty tricky. It’s all well and good identifying that we need a bit of space, but when it comes to communicating that need to the people we’re closest to, it’s hard to get your point across without feeling like you’re offending people. So what’s the best way to go about it?

“I’d always recommend being honest and explaining how you feel,” Love says. “Let’s face it, the ‘I’m busy’ excuse doesn’t work these days quite how it used to.”

If you don’t feel up to explaining how you feel just yet, Love suggests rescheduling your next conversation, perhaps for a time which will be less draining for you. 

“Try to reschedule for a time when you might have a bit more energy, maybe a mid-morning cup of tea rather than late night drinks,” she says. “Also by rescheduling, not only does it soften the rejection, but staying connected with friends and family is particularly important to maintaining good mental health and wellbeing.”

Although the idea of telling a friend or family member you need space might seem scary, chances are they’ll understand – in fact, they might even be grateful for the chance to be honest about how exhausted they’ve been feeling. After all, we’re all facing unprecedented circumstances right now, so if you need to take a step back, that’s 100% OK.

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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