We're having to rediscover how to feel safe with each other again - Ewan Aitken

Blended or hybrid working is part of our new post-Covid worldBlended or hybrid working is part of our new post-Covid world
Blended or hybrid working is part of our new post-Covid world
At a conference recently I was greeted warmly by someone who I thought I knew but was struggling to place. Then it dawned on me – I had spoken with them many times but only ever seen them on a screen.

I had several conversations that day about how good it was to be “meeting in person”. It’s a concept which has become a post-Covid “thing”. Yet it’s two years since the first lockdown ended. The rapid advent of ongoing blended or hybrid working is part of it, but there's something deeper going on here.

It’s not just that there are fewer opportunities to meet in person – we're having to rediscover how to feel safe with each other again, whereas before many of us took it for granted.

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We are having to subconsciously persuade ourselves to come out of ourselves again after a long period of high and continued anxiety which seems to have no end point. Lockdown taught us keeping away from each other kept us safe. Combined with the destabilising impact of the cost-of-living crisis and global events like climate crisis and the war in Ukraine, our collective and individual bandwidth to manage our anxieties has been greatly impacted.

So we revert to lockdown patterns, emerging less and staying amongst people with whom, and places where, we feel safe. The combination of all these unexpected, disruptive experiences has touched something deep in many of us and we are only just beginning to process it. This is what triggers the “isn’t it great to meet in person again” conversations. It’s a way of making sense of what has happened, how we reacted, and beginning to rewire our subconscious to a new understanding of what’s safe for us.

A lot of us have the advantage that we’re recovering from this shared disruption together. But for many, it’s much more difficult to find the spaces to do this. We know that relationships are the most important part of healing – ironically, lockdown thwarted the opportunity for many young people to build the relationships needed to support them through this next stage.

It’s why we are seeing radically different, often unwise behaviours by many. I don’t condone their actions, but I do think we need to step back and understand why they are making those choices. It’s also part of why mental health challenges amongst young people are growing considerably more common.

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Cyrenians support around 1000 young people through our employability programme, our communities, our outdoor education work and several other services. We are seeing the long tail of Covid and all the other big anxiety inducing challenges which I have mentioned amongst many of them. It’s a big challenge to give the younger generation the space and support to work this all through, but we have to do it, or they will carry its impact throughout their lives

But It’s not just young people. It’s across all ages and amongst even those who externally appear to be in a more stable and comfortable set of circumstances. This is about our inner wellbeing, not our employment status or bank balance. So next time someone says “it’s great to see you in person,” remember we may be not just commenting on a change of venue, but working through something far deeper and more profound.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians

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