Over the last few weeks, many of my clients have wanted to talk through how to re-enter social situations. As Covid-19 lockdown restrictions lift, we have to manage the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with it. So today, I’m sharing 5 tips to support you in re-entering the social world as things begin to open up.
First, I want to acknowledge that everyone will be coming into this from a different starting point. Re-entry social anxiety in a post-lockdown world can mean many different things to everyone. Some may be itching to go dancing in a crowded bar or travel all over the world, yet their comfort level around people may have shifted over the past years. Others may have secretly enjoyed the safety of being cooped up at home and are facing the reality of going back to “normal”.
There is no right place to be or right way to feel. All of your emotions, whatever they are, are valid and worthy. Whether it’s going back to the office or facing the holidays with family, I hope these tips will help you reflect on what you need and let go of what isn’t serving you as we head into 2022.
1. Accept it will look different
We all have clear pictures in our heads of how it used to be. We know what we liked and didn’t like, where we felt comfortable and what we avoided — that has all changed. It may not feel like it, but the last couple of years have literally altered our brains, and how we show up and move around the world has inevitably shifted.
Regardless of what you’re venturing back into, it’s important to first and foremost accept that it will not look the same as before. The truth is, there’s still a lot of unknown even as things open up and we resume activities as we used to. Half the battle is accepting that all of these experiences will look and feel different. The point isn’t to change them or wish they were just as before, but rather to figure out how to best live through what is.
That means letting go of all expectations and leading with curiosity and kindness as we navigate this new social landscape. Your outings might be shorter, your conversations may feel awkward, and you might realize you like or dislike new things. Let go and accept it!
2. Start small
If you’re not even sure how you’re going to feel when you re-enter social situations, start small!
Think of one thing you feel comfortable with right now: that might be meeting a trusted friend for an outdoors walk or getting coffee with a coworker. There’s no right or wrong answer—what feels comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you. Start with the least intimidating thing and check in at the end of it: how did that feel? Would you do it again? What’s the next step? Take your time and be honest with yourself here – baby steps is the way to go!
3. Create space to recharge
One thing I’ve noticed is that as soon as things started to open back up, I went back to my old ways of overcommitting to plans. I quickly said yes to every opportunity and just like that, every day I had something to do. It was exhausting! After the last two years, we’ve realized that getting back into the swing of things can take a lot out of you – that’s okay. Make space for it and prioritize recharging.
You can do this by setting certain boundaries, like only making plans 2 times a week, or consciously creating a wind down routine before or after socializing. The key here is to know what types of activities help you recharge. The theme to all of these tips is individuality and realizing we all have different needs. What types of things feel like self-care to you?
4. Know what’s in your control (and let go of what isn’t)
As you re-enter social situations, remember you get to choose what you’re comfortable with. Whether that is indoors or outdoors, mask or no mask, small get together or big parties – YOU DO YOU! You can feel empowered in making decisions about what serves you and choosing what works for you. Take some time to reflect on this. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your friends and family about your needs and boundaries. This can come especially handy as holidays are around the corner. Some things you can consider:
- What is the group size I feel comfortable with?
- Do I want to wear a mask indoors? Outdoors?
- What things do I not feel comfortable with?
- What do I need to prepare for this social event?
The flip side of this coin is that what other people do or think is not under your control. That means you can’t control whether everyone around you wears a mask, or if they agree with you or not. Stay firm on your boundaries but also honor others’ boundaries and let go of what is not under your control.
5. Embrace the awkward
After more than a year of video calls and working from home, there might be some awkwardness in how we all interact with coworkers, family, friends, and strangers. Embrace it! Naming your emotions takes their power away so say something like, “This is weird, huh?” or “I forgot how to talk to humans, didn’t you?” Adding some humor into an awkward situation can put everyone (including yourself!) at ease and bring some light into an otherwise very serious or anxiety-inducing situation.
Whether this re-opening is something you’re looking forward to or dreading, remember to be kind to yourself. These past couple of years have been tough on everyone and the route into our new normal won’t be easy. Honor your needs and show up for yourself with grace and compassion. And, as always, know that we’re here to help if you want additional support with this or anything else happening in your life!