Common questions about returning to in-person interactions post-COVID-19.
Is It Normal to Feel Anxious About Returning to Person-to-person Interactions?
Absolutely! In fact, APA reportedly that nearly 50% of Americans are experiencing anxiety surrounding returning to in-person interactions. Although we’ve all been feeling hopeful that we’d return to a “new normal” sooner rather than later, the uncertainty of what that looks like has led many people to feel anxious.
Knowing that others may be feeling similarly may not help rid yourself of anxiety, but it can certainly help put it into context. It can also help you feel more comfortable letting other people know how you feel and communicating your boundaries as you adjust.
What Are the Types of Anxiety People Are Experiencing Around Returning to In-Person Interactions?
Re-entry anxiety is taking many forms, but the most common types include anxiety surrounding safety and social life.
Many individuals are unsure how to feel “safe” while returning to normal activities, and that’s perfectly okay. For the entirety of the pandemic, we’ve been conditioned to understand that the virus is extremely contagious – and that remains true! But with the implementation of the vaccine and careful guidelines about how to reenter safely, you can feel confident that you are behaving appropriately for the current situation.
For those concerned that their social behaviors may be a bit “rusty” after this period of social distancing, know that you’re not alone! Everyone is in a very similar situation. Take the time you need to rejoin your friends and family and be patient with yourself if you need to limit your social time while you adjust.
Should You Avoid Social Situations Until You Are More Comfortable?
While it is important to set healthy boundaries, avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable is not recommended. In fact, this can often make the anxiety worse!
It is far more beneficial for you to set limits such as the number of people you are interacting with, or the amount of time that you are spending out, while working to extend these boundaries over the coming weeks and months until you have returned to a level of social interaction that you enjoyed pre-pandemic.
How Can I Express My Anxieties With Others in a Way They Will Understand?
Appropriate communication can be beneficial in helping you feel more comfortable by allowing others to understand how you are feeling and what your boundaries are. We say “appropriate communication” because it is essential to consider the context of what you are communicating and to whom.
For example, let’s say your boss is requiring everyone in the department to return to the office after months of working from home. It may be inappropriate for you to demand that you continue to work from home because you are uncomfortable with returning to work in person. On the other hand, it is likely appropriate for you to ask them what precautions they will be taking to keep everyone safe, or even to ask for a few days or a week to settle whatever needs to be settled at home before returning full time.
Communication needs to be a two-way street. Everyone is in a similar situation and most want to find a solution that works for everyone. Reaching compromise requires conversation, rather than demands.
Should I Be Focusing on Educating Others in the Next Few Months?
Education and clear communication are admirable, however, you should be careful to ensure that you are not expecting others to have the exact same understanding of the situation as you do.
If you have spent any time on social media or watching the news during the pandemic, it is abundantly clear that there is no end to different views regarding COVID-19, it’s precautions, and its effect on our daily lives. While it can be tempting to always speak your mind, in many situations it may be more beneficial to focus on the things you can control and allow others to do the same.
How Can I Accept the Way I’m Feeling While Ensuring I Am Not Encouraging the Anxiety?
It’s important to be kind and honest with yourself about the way that you are feeling and the level of comfortability you have in certain situations while also allowing yourself room to grow by challenging yourself. Be patient but firm when hesitant to try new situations.
Try to be objective. Does the thing that is making you anxious actually present a potential harm to you or others? Or is it just something that makes you feel uncomfortable? The latter might mean going outside of your comfort zone, at least for a limited period of time, to help you broaden your horizons.
How Can I Stay Informed While Not Being Overwhelmed?
There are two major important components to staying informed without being overwhelmed:
- First, make sure that you are getting your information from a reliable source
- Second, make sure that you are taking time to check out or disconnect. This could mean only checking news sites at a set time, say during lunch, and only for a set amount of time, before returning to your everyday tasks. We would not recommend checking news first thing in the morning or right before bed, as this could have an impact on the start of your day or your sleep schedule.
Will Life Return to Normal Following the Pandemic?
It’s certain that life will soon look something similar to life pre-pandemic, but it’s also sure to have changed.
Everyone was impacted differently through this experience. Be patient with the process of returning and open to the possibility that it may look different than what you remember life being like prior to COVID-19.
Should I See a Therapist About COVID-Related Anxiety?
If you are experiencing anxiety about COVID-19 and/or reentry, counseling can help you identify your fears more objectively, reframe situations to see them clearer, and ultimately return to a more balanced way of living, uninhibited by anxiety.