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Thirsty For Connection: Navigating Social Re-entry + New Norms

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

I’ve been missing my friends and in-person worship badly. But I didn’t know how parched for human interaction I was until my dentist appointment yesterday. It was indescribably good to talk and laugh with someone in person. About normal things, like the weekend and hiking and hopes for travel.

Granted, my dentist's assistant is probably one of the sweetest people ever. But still, I never thought I’d feel reluctant to leave the dentist’s office! And I certainly never thought a visit would be so socially refreshing.

It made me realize -- I’m socially dehydrated.

And up until now, my hesitations have been enough to deter me from even trying in-person social interaction.

With people masked and hurrying through stores, strict 6-foot ordinances, businesses at half capacity, and rapidly evolving guidelines -- the world doesn’t feel very welcoming right now.

People don’t feel approachable. And it's more than the masks and the ordinances. We feel unsure of what's socially acceptable. Not to mention what is safe.

It’s more than the masks and the ordinances. We feel unsure of what’s socially acceptable. Not to mention what is safe.

So, in addition to our questions of, “Is this safe for me? Is this safe for them? What precautions are appropriate?” we’re also wondering, “How will my friends and family perceive this? Will they think I’m being irresponsible? Disrespectful? Uptight?” and, inevitably -- “How awkward is this going to be?” or “What if no one wants to hang out?"

If you're like me, you're still figuring out how to be social in this season. Here are 5 helpful tips + 23 practical ideas to guide your re-entry into in-person activities.

1) Know you are not the only one thirsty for social interaction

The social distancing guidelines make it very easy to feel not just lonely, but also alone in how we feel. It can feel like no one else wants social interaction. But they do. We are all wired for human interaction.

Reach out to your friends and family. Ask about their interest and comfort level in meeting.

Here are some in-person but socially distanced ideas:

  • Gather in the parking lot for remote worship. Set up lawn chairs or just park next to each other. It’ll feel good to see your church home and even better to worship together as a church family.

  • Practice activities that already have social distancing built in! Toss around a Frisbee or a football, shoot hoops with a friend, or try tennis. Just make sure to adapt rules to your agreed-upon comfort levels!

  • Invite a friend to go on a social distancing walk. Each of you stays on one side of the street.

  • Meet at a local park for a workout outside.

  • Enjoy a picnic. Brown bag it! Each person can spread out a blanket or towel and enjoy lunch together.


1) Get outdoors. It feels much more normal spreading out when we’re outside. Some early studies also seem to indicate that it’s harder for the virus to spread when we’re outdoors. (Note: It is not recommended that we relax other social distancing guidelines -- but this may add another layer of protection!)

2) Recognize it’s a process. Your first social distancing activities might have a couple awkward moments, and that’s okay! What people really want is to see each other and be safe.

2) Respect each person’s experience of Covid-19

There is a wide spectrum on how we are experiencing this pandemic. Some of us are experiencing heavy personal loss. For others, this season has brought gifts -- rest, family time, hobby exploration, personal growth.

Some of us are scared, some frustrated, some skeptical, sad, lonely, confused--and everything in between.

Wherever you are on the spectrum, we can navigate differing experiences with compassion:

  • Ask questions! It can be difficult not to feel frustrated by -- or critical of -- differing approaches. Try to learn how their situation is impacting their choices.

  • Listen without interruption. Allow people to fully express their experience. The trick--don’t think about what you will say next. Instead, listen for deeper understanding. This not only helps you fully focus on what they’re saying, but it will help validate that person’s experience.

  • Give the benefit of the doubt. Everyone copes differently.

  • Affirmation: Where possible, affirm their feelings, wants, and needs.

  • Accept what you can and cannot control. You cannot control others’ behavior. But you can choose how you respond.

  • Be flexible. What we know is changing on a daily basis. Our comfort levels may likewise change daily, and that’s okay.

3) Process your own experience

Knowing what motivates your choices will help you better relate to others and will help you communicate your views and experiences with others.

Decide what social distancing regulations bring you the most peace and make you feel safe. Set clear boundaries. Brainstorm how you want to explain your boundaries and adhere to them.

Honor boundaries

  • Check in with your family’s and friends’ comfort levels. What feels safe for them? Where do they feel comfortable? What are their boundaries?

  • Honor boundaries that are stricter than your own.

  • Recognize the influences of social pressure. When someone seems uncomfortable at the lack of social distancing, be a helpful voice. Remind the group that not everyone may feel comfortable.

  • Check the guidelines of your local businesses. Honor their requests as thoughtfully as possible. Have patience for delays, cancellations, and changes. They are having to make a lot of changes very quickly!

Engage with those around you

Even with our limitations, there are still opportunities to engage with the people around us in small ways.

A lot of us don’t really know our neighbors or never learned much about our pharmacists, cashiers, grocery store workers, hair stylists, veterinarians, nurses, etc. Or maybe we have been missing opportunities with strangers around us.

It might feel weird or uncomfortable in this season, especially if we aren’t used to small talk. Think of it like stretching your “social” muscles. You will gain confidence as you practice, and you will get better at discerning people’s comfort levels. Dare to feel awkward!

  • Introduce yourself to your neighbor.

  • Make a point to wave at people out walking in your complex / neighborhood.

  • Ask your pharmacist about their day.

  • At the grocery store, ask the deli or meat department what their favorite selection is.

  • Give a hearty thank you to your cashier.

  • Pay someone a compliment.

  • Practice random acts of kindness. Check out the Random Acts of Kindness website for ideas specific to this season.

  • Google conversation starters and seek other opportunities for light chat!

Join the Conversation:

How are you staying connected?

What are your favorite ideas for socially distanced in-person activities?

This blog post was originally posted on May 28, 2020 via Stephanie Haynes Coaching. If you live in Knoxville & are looking for a new dentist (see above), I highly recommend University General Dentists. I cannot say enough about their expertise and their love for people and what they do.

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