Society is reopening and we are starting to experience some semblance of the “normal” life we used to know. It seems crazy to think about the fact that nobody would think twice about standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers at a concert over a year ago. There was nothing abnormal about dining indoors at a crowded restaurant with a two-hour waitlist.
Millions of people receive the COVID-19 vaccine every single day. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detailed guidelines for what vaccinated people can do, both indoors and outdoors. Even though this is exciting news, some people are not as keen as others to rush back into social, unmasked lives. Clinical psychologists say that getting together with friends or family again may cause severe stress and anxiety. Is this normal? As it turns out, it is very common.
The Traumatizing Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic was something that nobody ever thought they would live through. For many people, isolation proved to be impossible, resulting in serious cases of depression, anxiety, and stress. Whether people want to admit it or not, the pandemic was traumatizing. Depending on what your role or job was during the pandemic, you may have experienced different trauma than others. Front line workers saw the worst of the pandemic and experienced different trauma than people who never left the house.
Some people didn’t follow health guidelines and ignored the reality of COVID-19, while others took it very seriously. Lots of people died and people felt incredible fear if they experienced a sniffle, cough, or slightest bit of fatigue. How do you go from grocery deliveries and Zoom happy hours to socializing in person without fear? According to an Italian study, this will be a very difficult transition for some people, primarily because of the anxiety about contracting the virus in social settings.
It’s Possible To Fear Public Places
Collective social anxiety is a real thing. Rates of agoraphobia, social anxiety, depression, and school refusal will likely increase as people head back into world. Going from a year of isolation, avoiding contact for so long, to “normal” will not be an easy for everyone. With the increased cases of these conditions, however, we can only hope that there will be a newfound understanding and respect for general anxiety. Some people have dealt with these conditions for many years, but they may be more respected post-pandemic.
Mental health experts describe social anxiety disorder as a persistent overwhelming anxiety about social situations. Anxiety can arise whether you eat out with friends or have to give a presentation at work. The stress hormone, cortisol, is a common trigger for this condition. Researchers say that COVID-19 is an unlikely cause of social anxiety for most people. In reality, many people already struggled with social anxiety pre-pandemic, and it’ll be difficult for them to reenter society post-pandemic. In fact, the last year has almost been a buffer, a relaxing period, for people with social anxiety.
What does all this mean in relation to post-pandemic life? People may have legitimate reasons for turning down invitations as the world re-opens. People will have to face their fears, but one way to ease their entry back into society is by not shaming them for declining invitations to public places.
How Do You Face Society Again?
The world is calling you back into the light, so to speak. How do you answer the call and show up? It’s best to start slow by wading in the shallows before plunging into the deep end. If you know that you will start socializing with larger groups of people in a month, start by meeting one person or two people at a time. If you have to head back to the office and stop working from home, consider working on a project with a coworker. Follow COVID-19 safety protocols and meet in uncrowded places. Perhaps you can feel more at ease if you and everyone you rendezvous with are vaccinated.
As you reenter society, mental health experts say that it’s paramount to maintain healthy boundaries to the best of your ability. Everyone has a different level of comfort and will approach the newly opened world differently. Know what your boundaries are and be clear about them to friends and family. You don’t have to end a friendship just because you don’t want to party at a club or go to a stadium filled with people. People will understand!
If you find that you still experience social anxiety or agoraphobic issues for more than a month, consider seeking help. There’s no reason to feel shameful about asking for help. Don’t let your mental health deteriorate because you are worried what others might think. Mental health is serious and early intervention is the best way to counteract anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The sooner you seek help, the better. Let’s brave the newly opened world safely and smartly!