Feeling freaked out about socializing these days? Well, you’re not alone — the pandemic has left us all a little unsure of how to socialize and certainly out of practice — and honestly, it’s totally valid to be feeling some anxiety right now. COVID numbers have been rising throughout the U.S., including the rise of the newer, more contagious strain.
Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in more fear surrounding contracting and spreading the virus. “This has led to many people feeling more concerned about socializing with other people,” says Talkspace provider Bisma Anwar, LMHC. “This anxiety can escalate to the point of making it difficult for someone to leave their home, even when they need to.”
So, how can you cope with the pandemic-induced social anxiety? Here are seven tips.
Follow CDC Guidelines
Anwar says most importantly, we should all be following CDC guidelines surrounding social distancing and wearing masks. These are simple tools that can protect us from COVID-19, and they’re backed by science! So, if and when you are socializing with others, keep your distance and wear masks, especially if you are indoors.
Minimize Social Interactions
To be the safest, it’s best to minimize social interactions altogether. While you may have had plans with friends every night of the weekend pre-pandemic, that might not be the best idea now. Limit the amount of socializing you do in order to reduce your risk. You can also limit the number of people that you socialize with, and only hang out with people one-on-one instead of in large groups. The more people you see, the greater the risk of possibly contracting the virus.
Now is not the time to hold back with communication. You want to be able to talk openly about COVID status and testing. For example, you may want to ask someone when the last time they were tested was, or whether or not they’ve been exposed. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions. Sure, it’s a little awkward, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Just politely tell people that you are being careful and would like to be as informed as possible. Here are some other conversation prompts you can use:
- Have you been hanging out with a lot of other people recently?
- When you socialize, do you typically wear a mask?
- Will you be tested before we hang out?
- Would you be comfortable keeping our masks on when we hang out?
- Are you okay with hanging out one-on-one instead of in a group setting?
Additionally, if you’re feeling a bit socially awkward from being out of practice socially, you can communicate about that, too. Sometimes saying something about the awkwardness can break the ice, especially if the other person is feeling socially awkward, too. Just know that things will start to feel less weird as time goes on.
Form a Pod
A quarantine “pod” or “bubble” is something that some experts recommend for socializing these days. Basically, you get together a handful of people and you decide to only hang out with each other during the pandemic, completely nixing socializing with people outside of the pod. Bonus points if you all get tested regularly. This is a safer way to hang out with more than one person at once.
Hanging out with just a few people is a great way to ease yourself back into the social scene if you’re feeling like you can’t even remember how to socialize with other humans in person. A pod can help you get comfortable with hanging out in real life again.
One way to reduce anxiety is to plan ahead, says Anwar. “When you leave home, let yourself do a mental walkthrough of where you are planning to go and plan ahead so that you continue to be aware of social distancing protocols,” she says. Planning can also entail communicating openly before you hang out so you know what to expect and how to prepare. Also, if you’re planning on going out to a public place, you can call the establishment to ask about what social distancing guidelines they are enforcing, if they do temperature checks, if they have outdoor dining, and so on.
You can even plan ahead in other ways to ease your anxiety about socializing if you’re feeling out of practice. For example, you can think of a few different topics that you can talk about if there are awkward silences or lulls in conversations, and you can plan different games or activities to do if you need to switch gears. Having these possible plans in mind can help you feel a little less anxious.
Maintain Your Boundaries
It’s always important to set boundaries in your personal life, but it’s even more crucial now. Know your limits when it comes to socializing during the pandemic, and enforce them. For example, you may have a hard boundary of only wanting to hang out with one person at a time, or only hanging out with someone after they have been tested. Stand your ground with these boundaries. Everybodys’ comfort levels are different. On that note, be sure to respect others’ boundaries, too!
Know When to Seek Professional Help
It’s certainly normal to experience anxiety to some extent these days. However, if you feel like your anxiety is extra intense or that it gets in the way of your daily functioning, Anwar says it might be time to engage in therapy or psychiatric medication.
“If someone finds that they cannot leave their home even when it is necessary during the pandemic then they should get help,” says Anwar. “When anxiety gets in the way of living our lives and taking care of our responsibilities, then getting professional help will allow us to learn how to cope with it.”
The bottom line is that we are living in — you guessed it — unprecedented times. The type of social anxiety that we are facing these days is different than anything we’ve ever experienced before. Don’t let your guard down, and always focus on safety. Following these tips will help you to socialize with a little more ease, and have your life feeling at least a smidge more normal.
If you’re struggling with social anxiety, consider speaking with a licensed online therapist — a convenient and inexpensive way to start on the path to feeling better.