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The Power of Reconnecting With Old Friends and Family

Those Zoom calls with your old college crew are more helpful than you think.

Key points

  • Reactivating dormant social ties helps us to deal with stressful situations.
  • Friends and family can invigorate us the way casual workplace friendships do.

We’ve all been through a stressful year-and-a-half of pandemic and now we’re staring down the new Delta variant, which threatens us with more masking, social distancing, and overall life disruption (not to mention, of course, ill health). The pandemic has had knock-on effects of increasing stress within households from myriad sources, including flagging finances, job insecurity, job switching, health concerns, and balancing work and family responsibilities. One way to escape those stresses is to reconnect with old friends and family—people you haven’t spoken with in many years—even if it’s just over a video call. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel after doing so.

One of the strangest aspects of the pandemic is that we’ve had our social world circumscribed. Most people don’t realize that about half of our social interaction at work is with “weak ties” or acquaintances. These weak ties provide us a lot more than we realize that helps us with relieving stress and keeps ourselves mentally sharp. Many of us have been in the situation where the pandemic has forced us to focus on “strong ties”—people that we must work with repeatedly to get our jobs done. We’ve replaced a lot of in-person meetings with Zoom calls, and most of those calls are with people we need to interact with on a regular basis. Even if we’re doing much more in-person, many workplaces are still putting people into pods to minimize potential virus transmission, and your podmates become your strong ties.

The difficulty with all this is that we’re not running into those weak tie acquaintances, and we’re losing out on the novelty that we get from serendipitous encounters around the “water cooler.” The interesting bits of rumor and gossip that we’d normally get are missing, and we’ve replaced it with more focus on a smaller group of people who have less diverse and novel information because we’re all interacting too much with each other and not enough with acquaintances. People underestimate how stale and boring that becomes and how that can affect our mental health (particularly so if you are extroverted and need social interaction to energize you). It’s also been difficult to do the other main activity that can keep us mentally sharp and happy—meeting new people to make up for the lack of novelty in our existing social network.

So what are we to do?

My research team conducted research during the pandemic¹ showing that two-thirds of us hit upon a great solution—getting back in touch with old friends and family that we hadn’t seen in years. We’re often hesitant to contact these “dormant ties” because we are often embarrassed with not having contacted them in a long time, and we might be concerned that the other person will reject our attempts to reactivate the tie. However, the response from them is often exactly the opposite—everybody is excited to hear from each other and people report jumping back into the old relationship in a way that makes people happier and relieves stress.

It was interesting to see which people were more likely to reactivate a dormant tie. Those who were dealing with more pandemic-related stressors—including job insecurity, dealing with remote work for the first time, or being stuck in a household with others that generated stress for them—were more likely to reach back into their past network of old ties.

In the first four months of the pandemic, the average person reactivated five dormant ties. The old connections were often from other phases of life when we had less responsibility and we could lose ourselves in the nostalgia of better times. Personally, my old college friends reached out to each other and we had multiple reunions via Zoom. We hadn’t spoken as a group in decades, but we had a great time catching up and basking in the warmth oozing through the Zoom connection. We’ve continued spending more time with each other, including visiting each other in person.

Reactivating these dormant ties are a terrific response to stress. We have a deep well of trust and love built up in these relationships and it doesn’t take much to release that again. It’s a great deal of fun to revisit old times and bathe in nostalgia. It’s also great because we get that novelty that we’ve been lacking at work—old friends essentially serve the same purpose as a weak tie in giving us new and interesting information that energizes us on current topics such as spouses, kids, and co-workers. But they are also better than the weak ties we need to replace because we know that they are people we can trust in discussing our fears and feelings. If you’re having stressful interactions with people in your household or are having a tough time at work, friends and family are a terrific place to relieve that stress and re-energize.

As organizations are making plans to bring us back to offices, I am looking forward to all of the chit-chat that I’ve missed out on during the pandemic. But I also know that I’m going to continue to reactivate my dormant ties—this pandemic has really taught me that old friends from my past are still a wonderfully accessible source of social support that I don’t wish to lose again. All I need to do is grab a glass of bourbon and they are just a Zoom call away.


Yang, S.W., Soltis, S.M, Ross, J.R., & Labianca, G. (2021). “Dormant Tie Reactivation as an Affiliative Coping Response to Stressors during the COVID-19 Crisis.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 106: 489-500.

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