As we ease back into social experiences, relating to others might feel brand-new and even nerve-wracking. Here’s how to stay gentle with yourself during this transition.
Posted in , Jun 3, 2021
Vaccination rates are, happily, rising. The weather is warming. And people are returning to social activities that—gulp—could be described as bringing us “back to normal.”
For almost everybody, watching the pandemic start to recede is the very definition of good news. But for many, there’s an uninvited companion as we take our first steps back into life as we once knew it: social anxiety.
Google searches for anxiety-related topics are noticeably higher so far in 2021, and psychologists are noting these tips for help in adjusting:
1) Acknowledge It As Normal
“It's definitely normal to feel some nervousness or anxiety, especially if you've been relatively isolated or in a small bubble during the pandemic, and you're starting to socialize in larger groups again or socialize with people you haven't seen for a year,” clinical psychologist Dawn Potter told the Cleveland Clinic in an interview.
So the first and possibly most positive step is to acknowledge that feeling nervous, worried or anxious about increased social interaction is a normal and expected part of the transition out of this very abnormal time of pandemic.
2) Trust Yourself
One of the easiest ways to carry a positive outlook into this emotionally-complex moment is to remember that you have the skills you need to be in social situations.
You might have struggled with social anxiety all your life, or these might be new feelings to you. But regardless, you are fully capable of being kind, listening as well as talking, laughing and being important to other people just by showing up. Trust yourself that no matter how strange it feels, you can navigate this new-new normal.
3) Go Slow and Steady
Shutting down when the COVID-19 pandemic began was a sudden, almost instantaneous change. But stepping back into social connection will be a more gradual process. Take your time saying “yes” to invitations to avoid exhaustion and overwhelm. And give grace and space to loved ones who might not be calibrated in the same way you are.
Whether your friend or family member is raring to go or more socially hesitant than you, be patient. This advice from Gabrielle Treanor, a positive psychology coach, could help start conversations with yourself or a loved one: “Talk with them about what could feel like a 'doable' first step for them, without the pressure of what they think they ‘should’ do.”
4) Make a Social Plan
Being authentically positive in social situations means showing up fully for those things that feel right and comfortable for you. Open-ended social gatherings might not feel that way right now, especially if you are concerned about the vaccine status of others in your group or at a venue.
Making a social plan can help ease your worry and help you feel a bit better prepared to join in and show up. Agree on mask protocols before you go, let your companions know how long you plan to hang out and share anything that helps build your comfort level. It might be, for example, feeling excited to eat with friends outdoors but not indoors just yet.
5) Be Specific About What’s Worrying You
A person with social anxiety generally worries about saying or doing the wrong thing for fear of feeling embarrassed or ashamed, says Potter. The concerns of someone whose anxiety manifests in a more obsessive-compulsive way might be more focused on doing something that is unsafe or puts them at risk.
Taking a moment to think honestly about what’s worrying you can help you take next steps—self-talk, reading and research or support from a counselor or clergyperson—to help you move forward.
6) Know When to Seek Help
Potter recommends reaching out to a therapist or counselor if your anxiety is persistent or if it is accompanied by physical symptoms of panic, such as shaking, sweating, a pounding heartbeat or feeling faint or dizzy.
If your anxiety feels uncomfortable but manageable, simply reaching out to a trusted friend could ease your mind. But sometimes, the most loving thing your friend can tell you—or you can tell yourself—is to turn to a professional for support.
How have you handled anxiety as you’ve stepped back into social interactions?