Back to normal? For some people, it’s harder to be a social citizen again.

June 8, 2021 in Wellness  •  By Miles Varn, MD
anxiety

The number of people who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. continues to climb and, in response, many states are relaxing or ending rules that have been in place during the pandemic. Fewer people are required to wear masks in public, more people are allowed in restaurants and stores at the same time, and people are talking about getting back to normal.

While that’s great news to many people, for some the thought of returning to life as a social citizen causes anxiety and concern. In a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, about half of the people polled said they’re uneasy about readjusting to in-person interactions. Of course, people with health conditions that weaken their immune systems and who may not receive as much protection from the vaccine as others will be more cautious. But re-entry anxiety is affecting healthy, vaccinated people too. One reason is that after we’ve spent a year and half building new habits to protect ourselves from the virus, we’ve trained our brains to be more on guard against risk. Rebuilding confidence and comfort with things we used to do without a second thought will take time for some people.

Strategies to help ease re-entry anxiety

The first step is to accept that people will experience returning to their pre-pandemic way of life differently and you should respect each person’s process and timeline. For example, your 17-year-old may be ready to go to a concert, while your 85-year-old father may not yet be comfortable eating at a crowded restaurant.

If you or a loved one is feeling uneasy or anxious about being in social situations, try these strategies to manage your re-entry anxiety:

  • Proceed at your own pace. If you’re not ready to attend a large indoor gathering, try taking part in an interaction you do feel comfortable with, like meeting a friend for coffee at an outdoor café or taking a walk with one or two friends. As you become more comfortable socializing, increase the number of people involved or try an indoor get together. If you’re concerned about socializing with people who aren’t vaccinated, it’s ok to ask the people you’ll be spending time with about their vaccine status.
  • Set boundaries and share them with family and friends. Think about what you’re ready to do and what you’re not yet ready to try and communicate that information to family and friends. Sharing this information can help you avoid confusion and hurt feelings if you decide you want to turn down an invitation to socialize. It may also be helpful to think about how you’ll respond if people don’t respect your boundaries once you express them.
  • Stay informed and focus on the facts. Educating yourself about the actual risk associated with taking part in social activities can empower you and help you feel less anxious. Get your information from reliable, unbiased sources that focus on evidence-based science rather than sources that may provide unreliable information like social media.
  • Seek help when you need it. If your anxiety is making it difficult for you to do what you need to do, like going back to the office, or you feel overwhelmed, talk with a trusted family member or friend about how you feel as a first step. You may also want to talk with a therapist or counselor about your anxiety. A mental health provider can help you figure out what’s causing your anxiety and build a plan to manage it.
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