United Kingdom

How to re-adjust to socialising and maximise the pleasure of going out, experts reveal

After months of isolation and staying at home, many people have embraced finally being able to see their loved ones again. 

From May 17, families and friends will once again be allowed to meet indoors, with the 'rule of six' (or two households) coming into effect for gatherings.

As the UK increasingly opens up and Britons are given even more incentive to reignite their social lives, some are embracing freedom with open arms and filling up their calendars - while others are understandably more wary, feeling the need to play it safe.

Afterall, for the past year we have predominantly been keeping in touch via video and phone calls and digital conversations, so it's natural we might feel nervous and hesitant about plunging ourselves back into the social realm. 

Whichever side of the social seesaw you sit on, there are a host of techniques to help you re-adjust to real life and boost the potential of having a good time. Here experts share their tips for coping with reintegration with FEMAIL.

After months of isolation and staying at home, many people have embraced finally being able to see their loved ones again - but others may have found suddenly being thrust into a social scene again daunting (stock image)

DON'T PUSH YOURSELF TOO SOON 

Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist and clinical director of The Private Therapy Clinic, urges people not to beat themselves up over any negative feelings they may have towards the idea of socialising and going out. 

'As a society, and as individuals, we have all just been through a big shock,' she said. 'For months, we've been told that seeing our friends and family is an at-risk activity that may spread disease.

'Many of us have had to carefully avoid seeing our elderly loved ones for risk of infecting them. Having absorbed this lesson, and acted upon it, it's only natural that it will take some time to unlearn it, and to realise that it is once again safe to see the people we care about.'

Jennifer Dorman, expert sociolinguist from the language learning app Babbel, advises starting off small with one-to-one interactions to get used to the feeling of talking to people face-to-face again, which will make larger social situations in the future feel less daunting or overwhelming.

'It may feel almost as though we have "forgotten" how to communicate, as our minds and bodies check-in with old norms such as making eye contact and using body language to express ourselves,' she said. 

'Be patient, take it slowly, and you'll find yourself feeling comfortable again in no time. The best thing we can do to combat this is ease into social settings.' 

Jennifer Dorman, expert sociolinguist from the language learning app Babbel, advises starting off small with one-to-one interactions to get used to the feeling of talking to people face-to-face again, which will make larger social situations in the future feel less daunting or overwhelming (stock image)

SLEEP AND EXERCISE REGULARLY 

Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente, says maintaining healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, have been shown to help reduce anxiety. 

He explained: 'Staying active is also a way to naturally boost endorphins, leaving us feeling more positive, enabling us to better cope with stressful situations.' 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of seven to nine hours sleep per night for adults, but this varies from person to person. Niels said you can also boost your mental energy by incorporating a 'broader range of physical activities' now that gyms and exercise studios have started to reopen. 

START SMALL 

Think about it like returning to the gym - your body needs time to build up its social fitness and resilience.

Dr Spelman said you might find you've become increasingly sensitive to noise and sound over the past year.

'It's easy to feel overstimulated when everything is too loud and people are talking over one another,' she said. 'It can be easier to focus and have quality conversations with two to four people, while a big party or a very crowded event might feel overwhelming at first. Even if you're used to hanging out in big groups, start small and work up.' 

PLAN FEEL-GOOD OUTFITS 

If you've ever left the house wearing something that makes you feel self-conscious, do you find it eats away at you all day?

Scientists use the term 'enclothed cognition' to describe the influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes like emotions, attitudes, confidence and behaviour, as well as interactions with others.

Dr Spelman told FEMAIL: 'If you're already anxious about meeting people, it will only be compounded if you're wearing an item that makes you feel deflated from the moment you walk out the door.

'If you're carrying a few extra lockdown pounds, don't attempt to squeeze into garments that immediately generate feelings of discomfort. Rather than bursting your bubble, it's really important to put something on that sparks joy. 

'Spend a moment going through your wardrobe and pull out all the items that you've been previously complimented on or that evoke good memories. If they pass the self-confidence test above, put them to the test on your next outing.

'If you can afford it, consider also buying something new that evokes positivity. You don't have to spend a lot of money: even a scarf in a shade that brings out the colour of your eyes can lift your outfit – and your mood!'

TRY HIIT: HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL SOCIAL TRAINING 

The concept of meeting up with people can feel overwhelming when you haven't seen friends and family in months. Especially if you're nervous about the conversation drying up as you've not been up to much.

Again, try evolving a concept that we've become accustomed to with exercising - high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which refers to the short bursts of intense exercise alternated with low-intensity recovery periods - and apply the approach to catching up with people.

Arrange to meet friends in short sharp bursts to help you get back in the groove - so for example opt for a coffee over a long boozy lunch.

You may need to challenge yourself to kick start the process, but each time you repeat an activity and have a positive experience it will help to reaffirm that you still enjoy it, which can leave you craving more.

If you are afraid of running out of conversation quickly because nothing much has happened in your life, rest assured that your friends are probably feeling much the same way. You could consider a book or film club event at which you all gather to discuss a book or a film that you have all experienced recently. This would be a great way to break the ice and kick start a conversation.

MAKING EYE CONTACT 

Eye contact is important when it comes to communication as you can say a lot without saying a word and is a big component of making someone feel understood or heard during the conversation. 

Jennifer said that the way we have communicated during lockdown means that eye contact 'may now feel a bit alien or be something we forget to do'. 

She added: 'While you shouldn't be trying to bore deep into your conversation partner's soul with an intense stare, try and make at least some eye contact during conversations. 

'It can help to show that you're present and comfortable in the company of the people around you, and make you feel more connected to others. 

'Many of us might have to initially overcome feelings of anxiety or awkwardness when making eye contact face-to-face. 

'Once you start using in person eye contact again, you'll ease back into the natural swing of things.'  

KEEPING IT CASUAL 

During the lockdowns with everything happening digitally, Jennifer said there have been fewer opportunities for casual and ad hoc conversations. 

Jennifer said that this may have led to 'maximising our time syndrome', which she explained is 'characterised by the expectation that conversations must have an agenda and result in actions or solutions.' 

She said that 'the beauty of conversation' is that you can keep it casual and you don't need to dive in and make it productive, interesting or solution-based. 

Jennifer continued: 'Try to let go of this habit if you've picked it up and get comfortable with more relaxed or unstructured conversations. 

'It will take a bit of practice, but the more you learn to let go, the more normal light chit-chat will resume.' 

If you're chatting with someone you don't know well, knowing which issues or taboos to avoid can go a long way, Jennifer said. 

You can play it safe by staying simple when cautious of overstepping boundaries, with go-to topics like pop culture, sports and the weather. 

Jennifer said that these topics are 'near-universal' with 'shared experiences over which most people can connect'. 

She continued: 'If you're feeling stuck, a compliment rarely misses the mark, as long as you are sincere with them. 

'If you're really stuck, feel free to ask questions and try your hand at listening instead, rather than leading the conversation. At the end of the day, we're all social beings who want to be heard. 

'Explore your curiosity by asking open-ended questions - ones that can't be answered with "yes" or "no" - to give your conversational partners space to talk about themselves and give you a better sense of how to connect. 

'You'd be surprised at how well you can do in a social setting without talking at all!' 

MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUES

If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, you can use mindfulness techniques as a way to boost mental positivity. 

Niels said that one way of practising this is through mindful meditation, but you can also use journaling as a way to boost self-awareness.  

RE-FUEL IN BETWEEN SOCIALISING 

If you are already getting that sense of elation when someone cancels plans, it's a sign you're overindulging socially and need to take some time to chill out solo, according to Dr Spelman.

'Round-the-clock tiredness, less patience, increased irritability as well as feeling unenthusiastic are also signs of burn-out,' she explained.

'If your diary has been bursting at the seams since April 12, take a moment to reset. Just as a car won't thank you for running on fumes, your body needs fuel.' 

He said that encouraging a form of reflection each day can make 'it easier to spot triggers or sources of stress in your day-to-day life.' 

There are wellbeing apps which can be a great tool, allowing you to record mood patterns and triggers. This can enable you to either deal with them or avoid them in the future. 

Neils added: 'Additionally, being more mindful can help you to realise when you need external support with mental health, rather than ignoring issues as they arise. 

'It is through conscious behaviour and reaction that you can start to address the problems that you might be facing and can begin to deal with them, rather than glossing over those feelings, or allowing them to build up. 

'While we are all excited to get out and see friends, family, and colleagues, it may just be that you need to take things a little slower than first anticipated.' 

You can also use breathing techniques if you find yourself confronted with feelings of nervousness. A good one is to try consciously breathing in slowly through your nose, while counting to 10, and then exhaling slowly through your mouth for another 10 seconds. 

You can repeat this technique until you feel calmer and can excuse yourself from a social situation in order to do this. 

Niels said: 'There is no shame in taking a few minutes away from the action to calm your nerves, and you'll likely feel better for it afterwards.'

TRY AVOIDING ALCOHOL 

Often our expectation that we will have a good time when we drink is driven by cultural norms rather than objective experience.

Results from a new piece of research recently revealed that high strength alcohol isn't intrinsically linked to pleasure - suggesting you don't need to drink to have a good time.

Neuroscientists at Myndplay - a technology firm that specialises in brain and emotion-based research - led a study using brainwave electroencephalogram (EEG) technology and blind-testing to measure the taste, preference and pleasure response to gin drinks with varying levels of alcohol content.

Those who drank the different strengths of gin and tonic experienced clear differences in pleasure - releasing flows of dopamine, otherwise known as the 'feel good' chemical on the brain.

The blind EEG study uncovered that the CleanCo gin alternative provided the greatest average brain pleasure increase (36 per cent) with every sip of the drink, followed by Gordon's gin (30 per cent)

The Joy of Gin experiment revealed that a low alcohol alternative (in this case CleanCo's Clean G, a spirit founded by ex-Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews which is 1.2% ABV, and Ceder's, which is below 0.5%) provided more pleasure than a full-strength gin (40% ABV).

The blind EEG study uncovered that the CleanCo gin alternative provided the greatest average brain pleasure increase (36 per cent) with every sip of the drink, followed by Gordon's gin (30 per cent) and Ceder's (28 per cent).

A second experiment conducted by Myndplay also revealed that pleasure can be derived merely from watching someone else drink.

Using electrodes to monitor brain activity, neuroscientists conducted a 'Mirror' neuron trial which involved participants watching each other drink gin - revealing that a pleasant relaxing feeling is mirrored.

A second experiment conducted by Myndplay also revealed that pleasure can be derived merely from watching someone else drink. Using electrodes to monitor brain activity, neuroscientists conducted a 'Mirror' neuron trial which involved participants watching each other drink gin

So the pleasure of drinking comes from the overall experience - not entirely the alcohol content. In fact, alcohol only provides a fraction of the pleasure experience.

The majority of joy experienced comes from the all-encompassing social experience, such as the opening of a bottle and the clink of a glass - as well as taste and smell.

LEARN HOW TO SAY NO 

Setting boundaries are an important part of mental health and wellbeing. Everyone has the right to determine what they do and don't want to do - and being concise is a key aspect of putting that hypothetical marker in the sand, Dr Spelman argues.

'Just because we now "can" doesn't mean we "have to",' she said. 'If you struggle with being a yes person, now could be the time to nurture "no". 

'We live in a society in which drinking is often a cultural expectation, and it can feel difficult not to indulge when everyone is expecting you to want to have drinks to mark every significant milestone in your life. 

'If you don't feel comfortable doing something, it's ok to say no. But rather than closing your friends down and doing nothing at all, express how you feel and challenge yourself by suggesting an alternative option, such as, "I don't feel ready to do that yet, but I really want to catch up, how would you feel about doing this instead? Or I could meet you here a bit later on?"'

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