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Dealing with Your Post-Pandemic Social Anxiety

As some of us look forward to a summer that seems more “normal” than the last, there’s a new anxiety rumbling. Many of us are feeling the pressure of getting back into the social flow of things. After spending the last year adjusting to a new way of connecting, we now have to get used to seeing one another face-to-face again. Does this idea fill you with fear? Take it easy. You can get back into things at your own pace with a little understanding.

Why we’re so anxious about living again.

It’s strange. We’ve all been desperate for the world to return to normal, but now that we’re facing that possibility, many of us are anxious. There’s a reason for that. Once we understand the reasoning, we can more effectively take steps to ease ourselves back into the world of social connection and relationship.

Knowing it’s different

Though we may not be willing to say it out loud yet, we all know things are going to be different moving forward. We may not really be sure what that different future is going to look like yet, but it’s change and that makes us anxious. In order for us to stand any chance of getting back into a life that brings us fulfillment, we have to embrace this change and commit to finding the silver lining…no matter what we find on the other side.

Establishing new routines

We’ve been more in control of our environments that even before in many ways. While we might have been forced to build new work time slots, we were left with a lot more time to reflect away from social obligations and responsibilities. For 12 months now, you’ve had nowhere to be and no one to see. That means you set the terms on how you socialized and when. Now? You’re looking at a wide open world being introduced to all sorts of new people and opportunities. That breaks up the routine and adds variables.

Moving out of grief

Too many of us lost pieces of our lives and our livelihoods across the breadth of this pandemic. For some, family members were taken from them. For others, they faced the uncertainty of losing their jobs and their sense of purpose and connection in the world. As we begin to moving forward in our new grief-soaked lives, it can be hard to imagine going out into a world of celebration when we’re still in mourning. Nonetheless, we have to find the power to connect again for our own wellbeing.

Straight up exhaustion

One of the biggest reasons that so many of us are nervous about getting back out into the world is that we’re still exhausted. We haven’t finished fighting with the pandemic yet. Every day, there is still the pressure to protect ourselves and the ones that we love. It’s traumatic, and it’s exhausting. Getting excited about seeing your friends again gets complicated as you’re still terrified of the future (and tired of dealing with it). You may be too tired to look forward to sharing, caring, and interacting again.

Afraid of stacking up

While some people have spent the pandemic baking bread and teaching themselves new skills, that’s not the same journey for everyone. Some of us have simply existed during the trauma of the pandemic, and that’s (rightfully) all we were able to do. Now we’re nervous about facing our bread-baking friends and telling them about all the anxiety naps we were forced to take in the uncertainty. To get back into the flow with joy, we have to stop being afraid of the comparisons. If all you did was survive — that’s enough.

Comfortable in the comfort zone

Although a lot of us adjusted to working from home, many others found themselves faced with their livelihoods compromised in various ways. For the first time, millions of people were stuck in their houses with little to do (but worry). We spent this time building comfort zones for ourselves and the idea of breaking out of those zones is now panic inducing. For the last year you haven’t had to put yourself in new situations with new people and that comes with a lot of uncertainty. We’re about to open the door on all that interaction again.

How to get back into the social flow.

Are you anxious about the world opening up again? Does the thought of seeing your friends in the flesh make you nervous? It’s okay to have complicated feelings around “going back to normal”. You can get back to that sense of quiet confidence, though, by taking things slowly and allowing yourself to feel out the process.

1. Take things slowly

Before you let yourself get overwhelmed by all the summer to-do lists your friends posted, take a deep breath and take a step back. Right now is not a “keeping up with the Jones” moment. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you don’t have to make a ton of plans for the summer (or even make plans at all). As a matter of fact, you can take things as slowly as you want and get acclimated to the social pool again, one small social engagement at a time.

Don’t book a mega music festival if you can’t even tolerate sitting in a pub with 4 of your closest friends without major anxiety. Take things slow. Meet someone in your garden for an afternoon of chat. Go on a walk with a few family members you haven’t seen in ages.

Ease yourself back into those social waters gracefully. It’s the most effective way to alleviate our anxiety and remind ourselves of how much we love our lives and the benefits it offers. There’s no need to go right back into uncomfortable territory. Open the door slowly and allow yourself to ease back into the world. The social glow will regain traction quickly. Don’t get swept up in it. Paddle at your own pace and find your feet slowly.

2. Feel the fear and process

Anxiety is riding high for a lot of us right now, but fear is the under-riding emotion beneath all of this. We’re afraid that our friends won’t like us anymore. We’re afraid that we won’t know how to be “cool” of that we won’t have enough accomplishments to stack up to our friends. All of this is superficial. Essentially, nothing has changed. Your loved ones have missed being with you, and likewise you have missed being close to them.

As humans, we don’t really do well with fear. When we feel it, we usually immediately do what we can to avoid it. It’s understandable. We don’t like discomfort, and we often try to ignore the things that make us feel awkward (in an effort not to feel anything we deem bad).

We can’t ignore the fear or trepidation we’re feeling, though. The only way to resolve the terrible emotion is to confront it. You have to question where it comes from and question the purpose that it serves. Often when we dig and really question our fears, we find that there’s a deeper message they have for us. Listen to that message and work hard to understand that change always comes with a silver lining when we know how to find it.

3. Nurture yourself with empathy

Empathy is such a powerful tool whenever you’re facing hardship and uncertainty in your life. While we eagerly extend our empathy to others, we don’t always work to extend it to ourselves. When you’re feeling nervous or struggling, you have to look within for kindness and reassurance. Be there for yourself and much as you are there for others. Even when you backtrack and mess it up, be nice and don’t judge yourself too harshly.

Nurture yourself and give yourself empathy through every step of the process. Getting back into the swing of things is going to feel awkward and uncomfortable for everyone for a while. Acknowledge that fact and be kind to yourself as the nerves and hesitation come and go.

Be compassionate when you flake out or walk away from a night out. Allow yourself to take things slow and back off entirely when it’s too much for you to handle. Don’t punish yourself or allow your inner critic to rip you apart. We are all going to experience so many emotional ups and downs as we get accustomed to what our new social lives look like. Embrace the change and know that everyone else is struggling as much as you are.

Putting it all together…

As we move forward into a strange new future together, many of us are feeling anxious about getting back into our social routines. While the thought of being reunited is exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking. It’s been so long since we lead “normal” social lives that thought of opening up again can be intimidating if not approached slowly and with the right attitude.

Take things slow. Don’t rush to get yourself back into the thick of things if you’re feeling anxious about seeing your friends and family again. See a couple of trusted loved ones and build up your confidence out in the world. Avoid running from the fear. Let yourself feel it. Then move beyond it by practicing mindful visualization. Recall all the joys of being social and the positive emotions you’ll get to experience once things open up again. If you’re still struggling, open up to people who can understand and empathize with what you’re going through. Let them encourage you. Nurture yourself with empathy throughout the process. This is going to be hard for all of us. The only way to get through this next strange chapter is to embrace it.