Does venturing out to socialize post-pandemic seem daunting? This expert advice will help…
By Karen Kwan
As much of the world continues to reopen after the pandemic after such a long time living in isolation, it would be natural to assume that the idea of being able to hang out again with your friends and family, and to see colleagues at the office, is a huge and welcome relief. But after spending so many months not socializing, the truth is that many people are experiencing social anxiety about the prospect of having to make small talk again. “That’s very normal to feel anxious about this when you haven’t seen other people in such a long time,” says Vera Cheng, a psychotherapist based in Toronto. Here, we dive into how to ease back into being social again if you’re feeling uncomfortable with it after such a long hiatus.
Know that other people are feeling anxious about socializing again, too
It can be comforting to know you’re all in the same boat. “Acknowledge that you’re not the only one to feel this way and, in fact, other people might feel more anxious than you,” says Cheng, who runs her private counselling practice, Talk Therapy with Vera, in Toronto. She says it’s key to remember this if, for example, friends decline to meet in person. “Don’t take it personally. Lower your expectations and look for ways to make everyone feel more comfortable,” she says.
Share your concerns with others
If you’re invited to a social gathering, consider speaking to the host about feeling uncomfortable, and get more details so you can prepare for the event. “Ask how many people are attending, and know that you can leave early if you’re starting to feel too ill at ease when you’re there,” says Cheng. It’s important to remember the factors you can control in these scenarios, she says, so you’re not forcing yourself into doing something you aren’t comfortable with.
Acknowledge your discomfort and get support
Know that these feelings are normal, and sit with these emotions. “Remind yourself that it’s okay and don’t internalize these feelings,” says Cheng. Talk to close friends or family about what you find daunting: they can be a good source of support, she says. If your anxiety is not lessening over time, she adds, you may want to seek professional support on how to cope.
Prepare for your social interactions
Try to go with the flow, says Cheng, but if you’re feeling especially nervous, practise some deep breathing. Have a few open-ended questions ready if “How are you doing?” gets a curt “I’m good.” You can ask if they’ve picked up any hobbies in the past year, for example. But at the same time, Cheng warns against preparing too much. “If you think too much about it, it may give you more anxiety to be overthinking about how everything is going to happen.”
Ramp up slowly
Don’t fill your calendar every day with a get-together if that makes you want to run and hide. “Listen to your gut and set boundaries,” says Cheng. You might start with one small gathering a week and eventually add more. “Be patient with yourself. If you push too hard, you will just get more anxious about it.”
KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.