Most of us have been itching to get back to our pre-COVID routines, even if we might not fully remember what those old norms entailed. Our world is not the same place we knew even a year ago, and we’re not the same people. Our social skills have gotten rusty, and a lot of us are feeling anxious about getting back out there.
While it may be the crux of a slew of memes and the butt of many jokes, social anxiety can create real hurdles to our wellbeing. This transition back toward what will now be normal can make in-person interactions harder than we may expect. Here’s how to tackle it like a pro.
Who would’ve thought one temporary shift could bring about so many disruptions to our lives? The isolation has definitely taken its toll. It was tough enough on its own to endure, but we weren’t prepared for all the extended repercussions, and now that it’s time to shift gears again, a good number of us may be feeling some panic.
We learned, in the last year, how easy it can be to fall into the trap of shutting oneself in, and how hard it can be to pull back out of it once we’ve fallen into its rut. Simply put, many of us have gotten even more comfortable being at home than we used to be, and have become deeply uncomfortable in public.
Some of us haven't put on pants in months, or makeup. And many have stopped bathing as often as we used to. We've adjusted to life without the presence of others (and the feelings associated with others being present).
Our social skills might have gotten rusty, but with some introspection and a bit of work, we can reclaim old skills and find ourselves happy in the outside world again. The big challenge is understanding that those first pushes outside our bubbles might be deeply uncomfortable, especially for those of us with pre-existing anxiety. Some people may even experience panic attacks. But remember that it’s okay to feel anxious and the only way to get past any fear is to push forward despite how it feels.
Own the discomfort. Let it permeate and process through the feelings by naming them. Cry, if needs be, without any embarrassment. Remember, it takes great courage to act in the face of fear, and the act itself is fortifying. It shows us what we’re capable of and strengthens our resolve, making going out and facing those anxieties next time a little less terrifying.
It may help to take public exposure in stages. Consider sitting in a park and people watching before actually interacting with others. Try the basics after that. Pick up some groceries and chat with the clerk. Hang out with a friend at an outdoor restaurant.
No one is suggesting that you forgo the needed virus protection. Wear a mask and please choose to remain distanced. But as you come out of the shell built through the last year, be gentle with yourself. You survived a pandemic and all of the attendant terror. It's okay if emerging from that isn't easy as pie. Remember also that others might be struggling whether you are or not, and be gentle with others, too.
It's okay to reach out for help if you're struggling. Please know that this whole year has been hard and it's okay if it continues to be hard as we all emerge. Some may rush out and revel in hugging, others may struggle to decide if they want to hug others again or not. There is no right way to do this.
This last year has changed us. We can move forward, even if we might need a little help getting started.
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