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Your Guide to Reentering Society Post-Vaccine

A year of lockdown has made us foggy and anxious. Here’s how to socialize again.

Source: Atoms/Unsplash
Source: Atoms/Unsplash

The CDC just lifted some restrictions for people who are completely vaccinated against the coronavirus. Now they can unmask to visit other fully vaccinated people and even visit members of a nonvaccinated family who are considered low risk. We can start seeing other people again, socializing face-to-face. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that after a year of intermittent lockdowns and isolation, we’re not super prepared to socialize at the moment. Social anxiety is more of a problem than ever because we just haven’t been practicing our socializing. Plus, a year of COVID-related anxiety has everyone on edge. When I see a party scene on TV, I visibly shudder. All I see are germs sneakily maneuvering in a plume of particles from one actor to another.

We’re also experiencing a phenomenon where a year of monotony has left us foggy and forgetful. High stress levels and uncertainty mixed with a Groundhog Day Effect mean that we’re more forgetful and not nearly as sharp as we were before life was upended by the pandemic.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a recipe for some super awkward and uncomfortable social interactions as guidelines loosen and we start hanging out again.

Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

Lucky for you, I’ve never been great at peopling. I’ve struggled with social anxiety and overthinking my whole life, and I've developed a guide for how people can shift their focus to be less anxious and in their heads and more connected and natural with other people. It’s almost as if my life was a test run for pandemic-living, and my book Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty, though written pre-pandemic, now reads like a how-to guide for reentering society after a year at the fortress of solitude.

Guide to Start Socializing Successfully Again

Here are nine things to keep in mind as you start mixing and mingling again.

1. Be curious.

Reentering society and socializing again is going to be a process. Just like adjusting to pandemic life last year, this new transition is going to have its ups and downs. Instead of having unreasonably high expectations (I’m going to host a block party and be the belle of the ball), try to take it one step at a time and be curious about how each new interaction affects you (I'm going to try to talk to the neighbor and just see how it goes).

I’m really talking about a kind of curious mindfulness, where you aren’t harsh and judgmental about your thoughts and feelings. Instead, be genuinely curious about how socializing affects you after a year of stress, anxiety, and isolation.

Think, “Hmmm, I’m interrupting people more than I used to. What’s up with that?” instead of “I'm such a jerk because I never let people get a word in.”

Go easy on yourself. This is going to be tough and sometimes embarrassing.

2. Slow it down.

I know many of you are going to feel like a greyhound when the robotic rabbit starts whizzing around the racetrack. You’re gonna wanna party!

I get it. But you should at least counterbalance this need for speed with some tips and tricks to slow yourself down when you become overwhelmed or experience a social snafu.

I have a handful of breathing exercises I do whenever I feel myself spiraling. I might pretend to take a drag on an invisible cigarette or sip a pretend cup of tea to deepen my breath and calm myself down.

When things ramp up, find a way to slow down.

3. Have a playful mindset.

If you’re dreading leaving the house, you might want to take on a more playful attitude about reentering society. Think about the possibilities and potential instead of the obstacles and annoyances.

I gamify everyday activities to prevent myself from taking things too seriously. Let’s say I have to go back to the office, but I’m feeling uneasy about it. After preparing so that my office return can be as safe as possible, I might make it a game by trying to make as many coworkers smile as I can or pretending I’m a droid sent from another galaxy who must blend in with this strange Earth office environment.

Being playful and adding levity to your day will help you overthink and stress less and enjoy socialization more.

4. Have an open mind.

Don’t pre-script your life. When you say that you’re going to be awkward at dinner tonight, you’re priming yourself to focus on the negative. That heightens any stutter or misstep you might make.

Instead, try to embrace the uncertainty and have an open mind about how things will turn out.

It’s also a good idea to have an open mind about other people. Instead of making assumptions, ask questions and seek answers.

If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s going to happen next. So try to be more flexible and open-minded the next time you step out the front door.

5. Shift your focus.

The best thing you can do to stress less and enjoy more is to shift your focus from internal to external. When you’re overthinking, you’re missing out on social cues. So do what you can to focus more on the people around you. Make it all about them. Ask questions and pay close attention to what they’re saying.

The more you focus externally, the less brain space you’ll have to worry about how dumb you sound or whether or not you have something stuck in your teeth.

6. Make others look good.

Another trick for improving social interactions is to make other people look good. Instead of trying to prove people wrong or impress people with your staggering trivia knowledge, make them look good. This might mean assuming the best or helping them tell that story they’ve been trying to tell for the last 15 minutes.

When you focus on making others look their best, it helps social situations go more smoothly and makes you look better in the process.

7. Shut up and listen.

A big part of listening is not talking. So if you want to boost the odds of having better social interactions, shut up and really listen.

Give people time to finish their thoughts. Ask follow-up questions. Take a beat before interjecting your ideas.

Better listening is a surefire way to have a better time socializing.

8. Try to "Yes, and."

There’s an improv rule called “Yes, and” or the rule of agreement. It says that you should go along with what someone’s trying to say and then add on to that idea.

Let’s imagine your friend says they want to go to a concert. “Yes, and” doesn’t mean you have to go with them. You could agree with the reality that they want to go to a concert and then keep talking about the concert and what it means to them.

Maybe your sister says she wants to quit drinking. Instead of pressuring her not to (please don’t do this), go along with what she’s saying and get more information. Contribute relevant details to the conversation about her quitting drinking.

When we “Yes, and” conversations, people feel seen and heard, and this is a great way to build rapport and trust, which is a great way to have great conversations. Great!

9. Remember that we’re all struggling right now.

Finally, keep in mind that we’re all struggling to overcome some kind of obstacle when it comes to reentering society. Some of you are anxious. Some are worried. Some can’t remember what day it is. Others aren’t returning anyone’s text messages.

It’s been an incredibly tough year, but if we go into social situations knowing that we’re all in this together, we:

A. Have something to talk about (our shared difficulties).

B. Remove some of the pressure to be perfect.

There is no perfect, especially not anymore.

Approach social situations with a sense of compassion and empathy. Find out how you can be of service to others. We’re all in this together.

Final thoughts on reentering society

Source: Anna Earl/Unsplash
Source: Anna Earl/Unsplash

Whether you have brain fog or are anxious to leave the house, know that you’re in good company. The best news is that socializing has always been messy, complicated, and often embarrassing. Use this reentry into society as a fresh start to socialize more mindfully and empathetically than you used to. Give yourself permission to fail at this peopling thing, and focus instead on how you can ease the reentry for other people.

References

Drinko, C (2021). Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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