As midnight struck and people across the globe celebrated and commiserated in various lounges - in their safety bubbles of course - no one was sorry to wave goodbye to 2020. But if 2020 was the year of cancelled plans, dare we dream that 2021 will see an incremental creep towards a semblance of ‘normal’?
Somewhat thrillingly, studies of human behaviour have shown that a period of wild hedonism and increased partying typically follows a health crisis. Yale Professor Dr Nicholas Christakis - a social epidemiologist who specialises in behaviour patterns - predicts that the pandemic will give rise to another ‘roaring ‘20s’ replete with frantic parties, reckless spending and abandoned religious practice.
In his book Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, he explains the pattern of isolation to avoid sickness, followed by desperately seeking out social interactions once the threat has passed. The 1918 flu pandemic gave rise to the boom and wild social whirlwind of the 20s. Christakis predicts that by 2024 we will see a voracious appetite for the experiences we’ve been lacking: namely, sweaty nightclubs, debauched festivals and an explosion of arts.
“During epidemics people become more abstentious, they save money, they get risk averse,” he said. “In 2024, all of those will be reversed. People will relentlessly seek out social interactions,” he said, citing liberal spending, 'sexual licentiousness' and a 'reverse of religiosity' as examples of changes to come.
The UK events industry is hoping for a return to mass gatherings as soon as this summer - albeit with stringent measures in place. Even then, many people will be anxious about gathering in groups.
Leaving aside the myriad health and economic issues, extended periods of social isolation have brought about other new challenges: a fear and anxiety around socialising and reconnecting with people.
Strategies like quarantine that are necessary to minimise viral spread can have a negative psychological impact, such as post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression and insomnia.
These feelings are multifold: aside from the anxiety of direct contact with others, there is the less-discussed erosion in our confidence and curiosity. Months of social isolation and time at home have generated apathy and lethargy. Relaunching our curious, adventurous sides and throwing ourselves back ‘out there’ to meet new people, live new experiences and create new memories presents a set of challenges all its own.
Imagine greeting someone with a kiss, throwing your arms round a group of friends, sharing a birthday cake at a party and dancing among strangers at a concert. Could you do it without a second thought? Would you be comfortable bouncing back with abandon or approach things more cautiously?
Whenever ‘normality’ resumes, we will have been living with restrictions for a year and a half minimum. Since March, the way we live, work and communicate has been completely upended. Our means of socialising and interacting has been so restructured that isolating at home in a tracksuit and hanging out online is the new normal. Certain behaviour has changed forever - such as the idea that we must work from a busy office and have meetings in person. Cities are quieter. There is more time to read, to cook, to pursue the projects we never had time for in more hectic times.
Can we ever go back to ‘normal’? Psychologically, the fear of an invisible threat carried by everyone you meet will be hard to shake. As the risk gradually lessens over the next year, our behaviour will slowly change as people become accustomed to lowering their guard again. Social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing are likely to remain even after a widespread vaccine. Restrictions are to be lifted ‘incrementally’ says Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer. Matt Hancock suggested Easter would herald a return to normal life.
So how to approach a return to our former lives without crippling anxiety?
“Anxiety about your own mortality, fears stoked by a deluge of online articles: these are the most obvious psychological effects of coronavirus. It’s likely that even those who aren’t infected with coronavirus could also develop psychological symptoms. Isolation and confinement, even if only for a few weeks, can cause lasting anxiety.” Steven Taylor, professor and clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics told The Guardian.
“General anxiety is a very important mental health issue to watch out for”, says Yuko Nippoda, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy. “There are many people who suffer from anxiety already in our modern society, but because of this deadly disease, people who tend to feel anxious more easily will continue to feel this and the condition might worsen,” she says. “Even when the Covid pandemic ends, some people might be over-anxious, because of the threat of a variant strain.”
Chronic loneliness brought on by social isolation or “a lack of meaning” in life during the pandemic is another major concern, says Nippoda. Some people have found themselves with fewer close connections in the age of social-distancing and may find it challenging to rebuild their networks. Others deliberately withdrew from the outside world to feel “a sense of safety” and may become resistant to increasing their social interactions in the future, she says. “When people experience stress in the outside world, they can detach themselves from that world. Once they experience this detachment, it might be difficult for them to come out into the world and socialise with others.”
Monika Bakonyi BACP BSc (Hons) is a psychotherapist based in London specialising in Humanistic Counselling. She recommends introducing movement and newness as a means of chasing away lethargy. “To combat the inertia, we need to put ourselves back into a state of change. We should remember that our body and minds are connected. Physical activity is very important as movement of the body allows movement of the psyche. Engaging with any sort of change can help shift stagnant behaviour, fears and anxieties. This can be changing your clothes, looking up old friends, changing the jewellery you wear, going for a different route on a walk. Anything that gets your brain into thinking differently. Movement is tranquillity and a state of balance.”
And her advice on getting back out there? We need practice and - to a certain extent - to retrain. “We need to train ourselves to reignite our adventurous sides to ensure we don’t suffer from apathy. Making ourselves do new things to challenge ourselves - which can be anything from joining a club, reading a book or learning new things - like going on a foraging course.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel. A significant minority may struggle long-term, but the pandemic has highlighted high levels of resilience in the wider population, alongside humans’ capacity to “bounce back” after catastrophes. In Wuhan, where the pandemic first started and cases were brought under control after a strict lockdown and mass testing, the city staged a massive water-park music festival in August. Thousands of people crowded together shoulder to shoulder, with no masks and zero social distancing. Large events also returned in New Zealand after community transmission of the virus was curbed.
This is a year of transition. And those holding events have a responsibility to provide a safe environment. We are in a position to shape how we proceed and gatherings are an essential element in reigniting lightness and hope.
A certainty from House of Hud: when we do return to a life where celebrations and gatherings are possible, we will be prepared.
Top 10 Ways to Covid-Safe your Party
- Most importantly: create a culture of confidence with excellent communication, forward planning and no surprises. People must feel safe.
- Limit your guestlist. Make the party a strict invite only to those you trust to follow the rules. No unexpected plus ones.
- Ensure everyone has a seat to use as a base for their belongings. Mark out seating areas in bubbles. Create ‘visitor spots’ near household’s tables so people can stop to chat.
- Provide masks and hand sanitiser or make them a feature: put a new spin on the Masquerade Ball by asking people to don something elaborate.
- Ensure the venue is well ventilated. A tent or marquee is the ideal structure for a safe party environment.
- Rapid tests: administer the new tests which offer results within 15 minutes before entry.
- If food is part of proceedings, employ designated servers for each item and provide individual cutlery packs and straws to be used with masks on each table.
- Keep doors open to limit people touching doorknobs.
- Set a clear schedule so people will know when food is served and can plan accordingly. Some people may want to skip the food part. Keep the timings rigid and keep it short and sweet. Lower contact time equals reduced risk of transmission.
- Provide liquid soap and papers towels in the bathroom.