Friday, February 24, 2023

Book Review: The Practice of Belonging

The Practice of Belonging: Six Lessons from Vibrant Communities to Combat Loneliness, Foster Diversity, and Cultivate Caring Relationships
Paperback - April 4, 2023
by Lisa Kentgen PhD

Community values and practices are always a hot topic but with the pandemic, more people than ever are talking about how we connect, where our communities work and where they don't. Finding solutions for issues is a challenge, and so I was curious to read this book.

Lisa Kentgen is a psychologist with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who works in academia and in clinical settings. It's a wonderful combination because this book marries solid research to practical application and provides lovely insight.

This is one of the best books I've read recently. The chapter on how caring transforms on a personal and community basis alone is worth a seminar.

I loved the personal anecdotes and the reflections on dealing with differences. The first gave me a vivid impression of communities I don't know personally. The second are food for self-improvement. Also, as The Practice of Belonging covers a variety of approaches and attitudes, it is a lovely multicultural read. That was simply a joy!

As I read it, I found myself wondering how it would work in my community, in Malaysia, and at home, in the UK. For example, the chapter on hospitality talks about connecting but it's a topic that is also deeply connected to architecture, gender roles, and food security. So will need to read that again to get the most out of it.

What I liked: The simple language, broad approach plus discreet references. The combination makes for an easy read but if you want to chase down original sources, you can.

What I wasn't fond of: nothing. This was an excellent book.

Definitely five stars. Highly recommended.   

Friday, February 3, 2023

Traumatized By A Lunch Invitation? Navigating Friendships And Your Social Life After The Pandemic

The lockdowns were tough on many of us, especially the extraverts, but now the world is opening up again, dropping back into familiar habits can be surprisingly challenging.  

 I missed my friends like mad during the lockdowns, and I'm so excited at the thought of seeing them again, but on the day of the meeting, all I want to do is lock the door and curl up on the sofa.

I was pumped at going to the pub but after an hour I was totally overwhelmed. It wasn't even 7PM yet and I was only halfway down my second beer but it felt like it was 4AM after being on the toot since lunchtime.

How The Pandemic Changed Our Feelings About Socializing

All creatures, including us humans, love our habits. Regular habits make us feel comfortable and safe.

The reason for this may lie in evolution. The world is a complex and dangerous place. So we do two things: 1) we make little rules to navigate it safely and 2) we plan safe behaviours and we stick to them.

So if we were Stone Age folks we'd have a rule "all red fruit is safe and all yellow fruit is dangerous" as we walked in and out of the forest along the same path every day.

Mostly, it would work well. We'd gorge on strawberries and we'd likely be safe on the path.  But we'd miss out on bananas and mangoes and we might miss two or three other nice walks.

Sometimes, it would not work well. Hawthorne berries are red and poisonous. Also, a tiger might learn of our safe path and lie in waiting.

But mostly the system works, and so our cat, dog and we like to stick to this system.

change = stress
change = stress

Before the pandemic we were used to going out a lot. It was our habit.
At the start of the pandemic, we were stressed as that habit changed.
During the pandemic we learned a new habit: to stay at home and avoid people.
Now we're being asked to change again <- this is super stressful!

You are not crazy. You are stressed because of all the change.

In a recent 2022 UK study 2106 people aged 16 to 25, 23% reported that they felt that they would never recover from the emotional impacts of the pandemic. 

In the Netherlands, a 2023 study of 1342 people aged 18–35 and 65+ found that both groups became lonelier and had issues with weaker friendships disappearing, especially for poorer people.

Figuring Out What Is Anxiety Or Stress And What Is Simply Rethinking Your Options

Another thing the pandemic did was to force us to contemplate our lives. 

Thanks to the post pandemic reset, many people are rethinking their choices.

I used to sit in traffic for an hour and a half on the way to work, and an hour on the way back. After two years at home, I've decided I'm never doing that again.

Before the pandemic I spent every Friday night in fancy restaurants with my colleagues from work. During the pandemic I didn't miss it. Actually, I like coffee shops and going to the cinema.  

So there are two things likely to be going on: the stress of changing habits and some rethinking.

Figuring out which is which is the first step to making effective change.

Suggested step #1 consider what the pandemic taught you about your needs

For me, the pandemic taught me that I'm an introvert. I learned that I don't like socializing in groups.

My choice is to give that up. I limit my going out to one day a week. Also, like tables at restaurants, I have a pax limit 😊 My acceptable group limit is six to eight people. No more in-person conferences, and no more parties for me. I say no to all corporate events, weddings, engagements etc.

So, figure out what kind of social events you love – and which to ditch.

Suggested step #2 minimise the stress from changing habits by putting in time limits

As we've not been out and about for a few years, we tend to overdo it with socializing.

If you're packing in a two-hour lunch before drinks and dinner, you may be overloading yourself.

Also, if you attend 'timeless' events like a brunch at an all-day café, you may forget to set limits. Both overbooking and forgetting to set limits lead to overwhelm.  

Setting limits doesn't mean being less social. It's not rude, either. It's simply an efficient way of setting expectations and limits so that you can make the best of your social time.

Our social ancestors have a lot to teach us here. In the old days, etiquette set strict limits on visits. In the 1800s in the UK for example, a morning visit lasted 15 to 20 minutes. Afternoon visits were twice as long, from 30 minutes up to 45 minutes.

Also, people designated specific days when they were 'at home'. These rules allowed them to be very social but they maintained strong boundaries so they didn't burn out.

What I do is set aside one day a week for socializing, Thursdays, and one evening out. On the Thursday, I have a two-hour lunch WITH a coffee date in the morning OR a half hour voice call with a friend.

Suggested step #3 go for voice calls

Less stress = more happiness
Less stress = more happiness

Meeting up is fun but if it's traffic from hell, personal meetings pack a big stress punch. I'm a huge fan of using tech to connect.

Also, texting is okay for short messages but it's time intensive and poor for emotions/connecting.
And, video calls are tiring because you have to look at a camera – and you need to dress
Suggestion: text to arrange a voice call. Also, have regular calls with good friends.

With good friends who live near you, consider having a voice call one time, meet near you the next time, meet near them the time after that.

For long distance friends, a regular long call is a delight. It can be every Monday morning, every last Saturday of the month – as long as it's regular. If setting a time limit is an issue, use Zoom and don't pay for it. It will cut you off after 40 mins.

I hope you found this useful. Thanks for reading!

Some related journal paper

Public perceptions and experiences of social distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic: a UK-based focus group study

Beware the “loneliness gap”? Examining emerging inequalities and long-term risks of loneliness and isolation emerging from COVID-19

Who is lonely in lockdown? Cross-cohort analyses of predictors of loneliness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Images by Square Frog and John Hain from Pixabay