Ask the therapist: How can I make my social life less stressful after isolation?

In the “Consulting Therapist” series, I will answer all your questions about mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about living conditions, or just seeking the insights of a therapist, you can submit a question. Please pay attention to my answers to your questions in the Healthy Mind newsletter every Friday.

A reader asked

Last year I always wished that I could go out of the house and meet people. But now we can almost do this, and the idea of ​​getting along with people seems overwhelming. What’s wrong with me?

Amy answered

You are used to social distancing. Although sometimes this can be really difficult to do, this is what you have known in the past year. So it’s no surprise that doing something different now feels uncomfortable.

Things are still weird

Many people are talking about how things finally “return to normal”. However, life has not returned to the way it was before. Social networking will be different from before. And we are not sure how to deal with some of the new situations we encountered.

Do you go to a friend’s house to wear a mask? You ask people whether they have been vaccinated? If you were invited to a large indoor social gathering, what would you say? Or what if someone asks you to wear a mask when you think it is unnecessary?

Some of your anxiety may stem from knowing that things will not be exactly the same as before, and having a sense of embarrassment that is close to the unknown.

You don’t practice

Another reason you may feel overwhelmed with people is because you have not been socialized for a long time. Social skills are just like other skills-we need to practice them to stay sharp.

You may not meet with people regularly for a long time. Your brain may try to convince you that you have forgotten how to socialize.

You may also want to know what you are going to talk to people about. If you have been socially distancing for a year, then you seem to have nothing to discuss.

Fortunately, you will most likely find that once you go out and start talking with people again, you will find that reading body language and checking facial expressions in real life can make communication smoother.

Take it easy

Although you may feel overwhelmed and anxious about returning there, socializing is good for your mental health. Increase your social interaction one small step at a time, and you may find that each step becomes easier.

After all, you may not go directly to a rock concert from the quarantine area. Instead, you can start by meeting a friend for a cup of coffee outside. Or you can go to a few shops first and get used to being in a public place again.

If something is going to happen—such as a party this summer or a date you need to go back to the office—start increasing your social activities early. You will most likely adjust and regain confidence faster than you think. After all, you may soon adapt to not being social.

Remember, you are not alone

You might think that other people are happy to come back there to socialize again. However, many people are as worried as you are.

For many people, this has been a long and difficult year. Although the idea of ​​meeting people again sounds good on the surface, many other people also feel nervous and overwhelmed.

So accept your feelings and don’t judge yourself for it. Telling yourself, “I should be happy about this” will only make you feel worse. Some contradictions regarding reintegration into the social world are normal. And you may not have any problems.

Get help if needed

However, if you find it really difficult to motivate yourself to socialize, please consult a therapist. Talk therapy may help you overcome your feelings and regain the confidence needed to participate in safe social gatherings.