BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Since the COVID-19 pandemic began over two years ago, social distancing, quarantining, and masks have become necessary aspects of life.

While health experts agree that such precautions are a means of protection from COVID, some also note that the very measures we take to protect ourselves from physical sickness may have a negative impact on our emotional well-being.

For example, the website, Science refers to a study headed by Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a research psychologist at Brigham Young University, in pointing out that social isolation over an extended period of time can increase the risk of health problems such as heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death.

Holt-Lunstad’s work appeared to reveal that chronic isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.

She added that the key to reversing the risk of illness in cases like these may lie in having someone to talk to and count on. Science quotes Holt-Lunstad as saying, “Just knowing that you have someone you can count on if needed is enough to dampen some of those responses even if [that person is] not physically present.”

Clearly, striking up conversations with others and building friendships are a crucial aspect of one’s emotional and physical well-being.

But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be easier said than done.

Healthline quotes Hillary Ammon, PsyD, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, as saying, “Those that chose to socially distance themselves or were encouraged to complete school or work from home became comfortable with those shifts in their behaviors. Now, as they reemerge and return to work and school or start to attend social gatherings, it is normal to experience some worry or discomfort for various reasons.”

Kat Vellos, the author of ‘Connected From Afar’ and ‘We Should Get Together,’ also touched on the discomfort many now feel in social settings that require them to initiate a conversation. Vellos said, “They’re worried about making the other person feel uncomfortable, and they’re worried about feeling uncomfortable themselves.”

Essentially, experts agree that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are dealing with increased social awkwardness around each other.

So, what can a person do if they want to start a conversation, but feel they lack the skills to do so?

A recent article in Shondaland addressed the issue and offered several tips to turn a potentially awkward social situation into a flowing conversation.

Three of those tips are listed below:

Replace “How are you?” with a thought-provoking question

In recent years, “How are you?” has become a phrase that’s often volleyed from one person to another without either providing a sincere answer to the question. It’s almost like saying, “Hey.”

To show sincere interest in someone’s state of being while greeting them, it may be helpful to replace ‘how are you’ with one of the following questions:

-What’s on your mind?
-What’s the vibe?
-What are three words to describe your life lately?
-What emoji do you feel like right now?

These questions invite people to open up and truly express themselves. When that happens, it’s more likely that a real bond can eventually occur.

Find out what you have in common

Instead of letting a conversation wither and die after discussing how someone is doing, it might be a good idea to mention a television show that you like or your favorite band’s new song and then, ask them what television shows or musicians they like.

Embrace your awkwardness

If you feel like you’re noticeably uncomfortable or struggling to find the right things to say, don’t be afraid to point this out. Doing so can break the ice and give both of you something to laugh about.

Shari Leid, the author of ‘The 50/50 Friendship flow’ is quoted as saying, “When we focus on not being awkward, we become more awkward.”

On the other hand, the referenced Shondaland article advises, “Leverage an uncomfortable feeling or moment as a conversation starter. Say it out loud rather than holding it in as internal dialogue. You’re almost never as gauche or graceless as you think you are, so trust yourself, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. Chances are, the other person has been there too. Not only is it sincere and endearing, but it’s freeing.”

Despite the intensified feelings of self consciousness that we might feel in social situations, it is possible to have meaningful conversations with other people.

As we attempt to rebuild social connections, health experts suggest having compassion for others -who are likely feeling just as awkward as we are- and making sure that we show ourselves the same compassion.

Click here to read the referenced Shondaland article in full.