How to tell your friends you still have to social distance during level 3 lockdown

Man video calling his friends (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Man video calling his friends (PHOTO: Getty Images)

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had the “we are meeting up after lockdown” conversation with one or two of your friends. As we head into level 3 lockdown some people might be tempted to meet up, but coronavirus is still looming large.

When the president’s speech ended off with the subtle statement, “It’s in your hands now,” I vividly recalled all the times I laughed it off when my friends broke lockdown rules.

Am I willing to put myself at risk by meeting up with them when they’ve shown risky behaviour by not complying with safety regulations? And if not, how am I going to tell them to continue keeping their distance? After all, under level 3 lockdown regulations you’re still not supposed to visit friends and family.

Lighter restrictions may make it more alluring to meet up with your loved ones – after all, people are social creatures. Relationship expert Paula Quinsee, a TEDx speaker and the author of Embracing Conflict and Embracing No, tells DRUM people “have been starved of human connection and physical touch is vital not only for our mental and emotional health, but our physical health too”.

READ MORE: Survey shows South Africans are suffering from anxiety, financial pressure and depression in lockdown

But she echoes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks that the potential for infection to spread is going to be higher than before. People need to take that into account when they feel like meeting up with friends and family.

“The world as we know it is going to be very different, we will be engaging with others very differently for at least the next six to 18 months and people will need to manage their expectations accordingly.”

As they ease lockdown restrictions to allow for people’s need to socialise, and to reverse the adverse wellness challenges lockdowns have had, some European countries like the United Kingdom and Belgium have proposed strategies to enable limited public interactions. One of these proposals is the notion of social bubbles, reports CGNT.  The idea is that families will be able to pick another family to interact with, expanding their social circle, but also keeping it constant.

Speaking to CGNT, behavioural scientist Ben Voyer said this idea has merit. “The intention of this change would be to allow those who are isolated some more social contact, and to reduce the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions, while continuing to limit the risk of chains of transmission. It would also support some families to return to work by, for example, allowing two households to share childcare.

“The risk is that once you start allowing people to choose their own bubble, they may be tempted to push the envelope,” he said.

“Naturally some people are going to be more cautious and fearful so may not want to engage or socialise with others, and that’s ok,” Quinsee says. “What’s most important is to communicate this with your friends and family members so they know how you feel and respect the boundaries you have put down for yourself and your family. You need to do what feels right for you and what makes you feel safe during these unusual times.”

When it comes to breaking the news to friends and family members who’ve been breaking lockdown rules, it’s best to approach them from a different angle. Rather than pointing out how they’ve violated your expectations in their social-distancing patterns, Toronto-based clinical psychologist Taslim Alani-Verjee told Vice it’s better to try saying something like this: “I really miss hanging out with you and I can’t wait until we can physically start hanging out. But I’m trying to be really careful about how I’m exposing myself and my family to Covid-19 and I know you’ve been a little more social than I would have been, so I don’t feel comfortable having our bubbles merge.”

Quinsee says people should seek professional help sooner rather than later if they feel they’re not coping. “There are still many unknowns and this only heightens the emotional roller-coaster we’re all currently experiencing, resulting in continued stress, anxiety, fear, low motivation and procrastination which have a direct impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.”