Here’s why the best form of self-care right now is to spend time with friends.
Last weekend, I saw a few friends outside at a park on a truly perfect early summer day (don’t worry, we had masks and stayed socially distant!). I laughed so much and had beautiful, meandering conversations with people whose meals, laundry and toothbrushing techniques remain deliciously mysterious and separate from mine. I TALKED TO OTHER PEOPLE! PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIVE WITH ME! What a day.
When I got home, I had a message. A friend wanted to clarify a joke in case I took it the wrong way. The next morning, a different friend, referencing a different conversation, wanted to clarify something, too. “I’m afraid my tone might’ve been off.”
Girl. We are all off right now, it’s okay!
I laughed with affection as I gazed into my phone, my preferred pandemic pose of the last 15 months, and messaged back: Don’t worry, I get it!
We are all socially awkward now.
Crawling toward summer
While social re-entry is happening at different times depending on where you live, I doubt any of us are doing pas-de-bourrées with our best face forward. If you are looking at yourself in a full-length mirror, wondering, Did I really wear this all year? as you overthink everything you said in your last Zoom call, I am doing the same.
So this is what re-entry feels like.
Personally, I am crawling toward summer wondering how to feel “normal” or at least, not like I pickled myself with chips and beer all winter in a fleece sausage-casing.
I’m overworked, tired, and I am still languishing.
This week, I’m half-laughing at myself, half-genuinely irritated as I use janky dictation software due to a new case of tendinitis in my wrist and thumb (perhaps a hazard of that pandemic phone pose).
When we feel crummy like this, our friends — should we be so lucky to have amazing, caring friends —would say, “You need to take care of yourself!”
Well, I say the best self-care right now is to actually care for our friends.
Self-care is friend care
Here are a few reasons why I think self-care, right now, is really group care:
- It’s actual brain science: Do you have brain fog? Simply noticing it isn’t enough to snap out of it. All this sameness and lack of socializing has really done a number on us. But the good news is this foggy feeling isn’t permanent. Brain plasticity is how humans adapt. And novelty is key for the human brain. Here’s an excerpt from an Atlantic story quoting a neuroscientist: “Being outside of your home, bumping into people, commuting, all of these changes that we are collectively being deprived of—is very associated with synaptic plasticity,” the brain’s inherent ability to generate new connections and learn new things.
- BFFs are good for your longevity: A few years back, a friend sent me a news story on moais, an Okinawan tradition of grouping children from birth into a small group. These small groups experience life together and learn to support each other emotionally, socially —even financially — for life. “Research shows that your social connections can have long-term impact on your health and happiness. You mimic the habits of your three closest friends.” May we all experience a friends’ night out like this one day.
- Real self-care has never been solo: Self-care is often marketed as a solo activity (think sheet masks or spa visits) but it’s Week 59,304 of the pandemic; can you imagine anything you want less than an activity by yourself? Listen, I love nice toenails as much as the next person, but they don’t last. I’ve never laughed ‘til I cried with a nail technician. Meanwhile, I still think about memorable meals, conversations and words of wisdom shared between friends. My most embarrassing moments? Only my moai really knows them.
See your friends. Safely, sure, but this is the activity that will truly soothe your soul. Even if it feels awkward at first. Relationships give us joy and I can’t think of a better definition of self-care.
Hannah Sung’s column appears monthly(ish) on Best Health. It’s adapted from her (excellent) newsletter, At The End Of The Day. If you’re interested in reading more, sign up for it down below or click here.