The power of small talk"The physical and mental benefits of socialising, conversation, eye contact and particularly a handshake or hug cannot be underestimated"
After nearly two years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in Barnet, I have been reflecting on what has been missing from my life over the last two years. People often raise their eyebrows when I tell them how much I miss my commute and can’t wait to get back into the office. Don’t get me wrong, I love my extra hour in bed and am very lucky that I am able to continue my job remotely when government guidelines insist upon it but I can’t deny the benefits or my enjoyment of being out of the house and getting around the borough.
It wasn’t just the fresh air and the exercise I got but getting to explore new places and being around people which did me the world of good. The small and supposedly insignificant interactions with fellow travellers, shopkeepers and colleagues that I didn’t think much of at the time: people watching on the 263 and the 34 bus, small talk at community meetings; awkward chit chat in the lift or the shared kitchen in Barnet House. These sorts of connections and relationships may not feel much at the time and they might not even feel that joyful, but they are part of the fabric of human connection and communication that humans, as social animals, thrive upon. We might not realise it but while we are talking about the weather in the corridor, our brains are lighting up in all the right places!
This year, we have all learnt very quickly how to make digital connections. It has been incredible to see how much we have been able to get done from laptops and phones (including Barnet Post springing into life; a great new source of connection!).
Having managed a Covid-19 response service during the first wave of the pandemic and now as manager of a befriending service for younger adults in the borough, the ability to support and connect with our neighbours digitally has been an incredible gift and allowed residents to create and maintain social connections safely. I still believe we need to be careful not to leave behind the important social and wellbeing benefits of being amongst other human beings.
We hear debates about the importance of going back to ‘normal’ and in-person working as standard in order to boost productivity and economic growth and I am sure the high streets and businesses around Barnet might agree with this suggestion. I am much more concerned about the long-term effects on both our physical and mental health if we continue to keep away from each other for too long. While I think it is vital we follow the necessary guidelines to keep each other safe over the coming months and we can continue to enjoy the benefits of hybrid working, I hope we can return to enough genuine interaction and engagement as soon as possible.
Talking and engaging with people face to face has tremendous benefits on the quality of our communications. So much of our understanding with other people is non-verbal and we can more quickly identify issues and solutions in our lives and relationships when we are in the same room as each other.
The physical and mental benefits of socialising, conversation, eye contact and particularly a handshake or hug cannot be underestimated. I hope we all get to share a few more moments such as a joke from a stranger, a hug from a loved one or that life-changing conversation with a new friend in 2022.
For more information about befriending services in Barnet and all the latest wellbeing news and services in the borough, visit Barnet Wellbeing