How to Regain Your Pre-pandemic Social Life After COVID
Humans need social interaction. Studies show that regular social activity is critical not just for mental health but for physical health as well. Sufficient social interaction and satisfying relationships are associated with longer lifespans and fewer major health events; studies show that the maintenance of social ties allows people to build true happiness.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has enforced physical distancing such that many have experienced social isolation for months on end. Though digital tools like social media and video calling have allowed some degree of social connection, many people have not enjoyed face-to-face interactions with loved ones since the very first social distancing mandates. This has resulted in a widespread lapse of social confidence — such that even as the threat of coronavirus begins to decrease with effective vaccination, many people are hesitant to reach out to loved ones or initiate conversation with strangers due to social anxiety or weak social skill.
Though some might feel more than ready to dive head-first into social situations as the COVID crisis closes, others are less certain that they are ready for their pre-COVID level of social life. If you need some help transitioning back into a social state of mind, here are some tips to get you started.
With the go-ahead to gather, many of the socially deprived might strive to dive head-first into largescale social experiences, like crowded clubs or concerts. While some might thrive in such a socially charged environment, most will need more preparation to regain social tolerance and stamina. If you are already uncertain about your social confidence post-COVID, you should start smaller in your social aspirations, keeping your first gathering to a handful of friends, some of whom might already be inside your pandemic bubble. Thus, you can experience the support of your regular social circle while expanding your social strength with a larger number of faces present at a time.
After a year of sweatpants and couch lounging, you might crave an incredibly formal affair — but putting yourself into an uncomfortable environment for your first major social outing is likely to be a mistake. Physical discomfort does not quell social anxiety; in fact, it typically exacerbates it. Though you might be looking forward to experiencing sights and sounds different from those in your home, you shouldn’t venture too far into the unknown during your first few outings. Instead, you should wear clothing that makes you feel comfortable and confident and plan to visit places you have been before, like a friend’s home or a beloved bar or restaurant. When you are familiar with your environment, you are better able to devote energy toward enjoying your social experience.
One of the most common mistakes made by those feeling socially overwhelmed is failing to take a mental or emotional break. This isn’t to say that you need to schedule intermissions in your social engagements; rather, you should look for ways to separate yourself from social demands during a gathering, so you can regain your calm and confidence.
If you feel yourself becoming overcome during a social gathering, you might practice these techniques for regaining control of your emotional state and finding comfort in your current circumstances:
- Mindful breathing. Studies have found that focused breathing exercises result in lower negative emotions, even hours after the exercises are complete, and breath awareness can help make the brain more efficient, resulting in more seamless social interaction.
- Body scanning. When the brain is stressed, the body tends to tense its muscles in anticipation of physical danger. By mindfully relaxing your muscles, you can also relax your mind, helping to ease your social stress.
- Physical distancing. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of a need to physically distance yourself, even after the need to quarantine ends. In the middle of a social engagement, you should feel free to separate yourself from friends with solo trips to the bathroom, kitchen or patio, where you can take a full break from being social for a few minutes at a time.
There is a difference between post-pandemic social jitters and true, clinical social anxiety. If you are concerned that you have developed social anxiety disorder during your time in quarantine, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek professional help in the form of therapy or medication. Even after the threat of COVID wanes, you can conveniently meet with a qualified counselor through telehealth, and many services are fully covered by state insurance. For example, here is an excellent resource for online therapy in New York.
Social interaction is not optional. All humans need to be social, and the year of mandatory social isolation has not been kind to many of us. Fortunately, easing back into society doesn’t have to be painful. As long as you move slowly and remain considerate of your emotional state, you should feel socially confident in no time.