How to Manage Anxiety After Social Distancing for a Year

After nearly 18 months of social distancing, people are finally feeling more comfortable leaving their homes and joining their friends and extended family members. People are also doing more activities in person, such as going to the grocery store or picking up their prescriptions from the pharmacy. After such a long period of isolation or near-isolation, a lot of people are feeling anxious about engaging in social activities. On June 18, the Cleveland Clinic explained that a person's nerves can be on edge when they try to get back to the activities they were doing before COVID-19. Here are some tips on how to manage your social anxiety when going out in public and meeting up with your friends and family.

Know That It's Normal

Social anxiety is a sub-type of anxiety. It's more than feeling nervous about being around other people. You might feel as if people are staring or laughing at you, even if they aren't doing these things. Social anxiety might make you worry about saying the wrong thing, blushing or sweating. These worries may make it difficult for you to fully engage in social activities.

Recognize What It Is

You aren't weird or abnormal. Social anxiety is an absolutely normal response to being isolated for 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic. During your time of not socializing, you may have turned to other methods of communication. Remember that those methods may have felt uncomfortable at first, too. The first month or two of social isolation may have itself caused you to feel anxious. Big changes cause anxiety, but you can manage these feelings if you take the time to recognize them.

Ease Into Socializing

You don't have to fill every weekend with social plans after getting vaccinated or with the lifting of restrictions around gatherings and events. Ease into socializing. Start with something simple, such as bringing a plate of cookies to a friend. Make a coffee or brunch date. If it's been a while since you went to the barber or hair salon, make the appointment for the care you need. Easing into socializing will moderate your anxiety symptoms.

Practice Mindfulness

When you start to feel anxiety symptoms before or during a social event, practice mindfulness. Repeat positive words to yourself, such as, "I mastered driving on snowy roads, and I can master this." Take a few deep breaths. Wiggle your toes. Write your worries on paper, then slowly and methodically tear the paper into tiny bits. This symbolizes your worries going away.

Establish Comfortable and Healthy Socialization

Think about what's comfortable for you. Focus on what you enjoy the most. If you love running with a friend, start with that. Maybe you miss going to your book club. Think about how you can modify activities to make them healthier. For example, you could schedule book club meetings on an outdoor patio, or go running outdoors.

Set and Respect Boundaries

Setting boundaries for yourself will help you manage your anxiety. For example, maybe you're comfortable meeting one friend for coffee and sitting at a table outdoors. That's a great first step in starting to socialize again. Your next step might be meeting with a couple of friends for dinner outdoors. After that, perhaps you could try visiting a friend in their home. If you're not comfortable with handshakes, hugs or crowded indoor events, it's okay to have that boundary in place. If you reach out to hug your friend, and they decline, remember to respect their boundaries.

Seek Help If Your Anxiety Worsens or Persists

Keep in mind that as you start to return to socializing, your nerves should calm. Anticipation is often worse than the actual experience. You may feel calmer after recognizing that the worst possible thing you could imagine didn't actually happen when you went out to meet your friend. After a couple of days back in your cubicle or office at work, you may realize that it's not as bad as you thought it might be. However, if your anxiety persists, seek help. Psychologists offer cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other methods of treatment for anxiety. Medication may also help. You could make an appointment with a psychiatrist to find out if medication could relieve some of your social anxiety symptoms. This is especially wise if your anxiety symptoms get in the way of doing essential activities, such as going to work.

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