How to Socialize When You're Anxious About the U.S. Reopening During the Pandemic
June 29, 2020
Your favorite restaurant may have reopened, but that doesn't mean you're mentally prepared to eat out. And you're not alone.
Re-entry anxiety is common given the dramatic disruption to daily life, says Brittany LeMonda, PhD, neuropsychologist at Northwell Health.
"Anytime that we have a significant change or trauma, there can be some of this re-entry anxiety," she says. "To think that we could have our lives upended and go back to normal so easily is sort of unrealistic."
If you’re struggling to transition, try these methods to socialize while managing anxiety.
Make a list of your worries
This can help you pinpoint exactly where your anxiety stems from, says LeMonda. For example, maybe thinking about going to work makes you panic, but seeing one friend in the park doesn't. Finding the root of your stress allows you to look at individual problems and find solutions.
Be kind to yourself
Don't sweat it if friends are ready to reinstate weekly drinks and you're not, says Burke. "It’s a new world and we have new fears. We are not going back to the norm— we’re going back to something that’s new." Rewind to March when the world went into lockdown. Adjusting to a new way of life was difficult. Don't judge yourself for struggling to adopt old habits. "It’s normal," says Burke. Others are probably having a hard time too—even if they don't voice their concerns.
Be honest with friends
There's no need to avoid friends who have been social distancing if you're comfortable with some interaction. Think about the situations you are prepared to handle, suggests Burke. Maybe the thought of interacting with waiters at outdoor restaurants make you cringe. That's okay. Are you comfortable with eating take out in your backyard? Burke offers this approach to discussing plans with friends: "I feel nervous about doing this. I want to offer an alternative—I want to go to the park."
Log off social media
COVID-19 provided a break from seeing the highlights of other people's lives—and from comparing our own lives to others. "I think this was a great opportunity for us to see how social media really affects our mental health," says LeMonda. It's a good idea to disconnect from Instagram if you notice that friends' vacation photos are stressing you out. However, this is only a short-term solution. "Taking a break from social media or unfollowing people is really a way of putting a bandaid on the main issue," says LeMonda. "And the main issue can sometimes be self esteem, feelings of self worth, and social comparison."
Find a therapist
For some, the pandemic uncovered issues with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. If that's the case, working with a mental health professional is a better solution. However, finding help adds another layer of stress as therapy can be inaccessible due to a variety of factors, like cost. Check with your insurance for a list of providers, or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The organization can connect you to local support groups and services in your area.