If you’re a naturally socially anxious person, you may be struggling with the whole quarantine thing. And I don’t mean being IN quaranitne (that was the easy part!), I’m talking about coming OUT of quarantine.
If you’re anything like me, then social distancing was probably a breeze for you. You didn’t have to socialize with anyone, and you didn‘t have to go through any social awkwardness. Score!
But now that the world is slowly starting to open back up again, you may have some anxious thoughts floating around your head, like “uh, I didn’t know how to talk to people in the first place – how am I supposed to just jump right back into this whole social thing now?!”.
What makes it even worse is that there’s now this added awkwardness because you still have to stay distanced from people, so you can’t shake hands or hug. This then begs the question – “what the heck do I do instead?!“.
Well, have no fear! This is exactly what I’m here for!
Here are my top 4 tips on how to ease out of quarantine if you’re socially anxious
1. Write a list of social situations that make you anxious
Everyone reacts differently to different social situations. Take some time here to write a list of all the social situations that trigger anxiety for you. Is it running into people you haven’t seen in a long time? Is it hugging? Is it small talk? Big groups? One-on-one chats? Everyone is totally different. After you’ve done this, take a moment to write down whether or not COVID has made each situation better or worse.
For me, I’ve noticed that I get social anxiety when I hang out with aquaintances. I’m not close enough to them that the conversation flows easily, so I find it can sometimes feel a bit awkward.
This, of course, gets even worse when you add social distancing into the equation. Now these already-awkward acquaintance hang-outs turn even more uncomfortable because 1) we have to stay awkwardly far apart and 2) conversation gets old REAL fast (explaining what you’ve been doing – or not doing – during quarantine really doesn’t make for dazzling conversation).
Another anxiety-inducing situation for me is seeing people out in public when I’m not “prepared” for them. For example, when I’m grocery shopping and I see someone I *kind of* know. I never know if I should wave, smile, stop and talk, or just keep walking!
This is also worse with COVID because now everyone’s wearing a mask, so it’s hard to see what their facial expression is…which makes it even harder to know how to act! Ahh!
Related Article: How to create a great goal setting worksheet
2. Write down ways that you can make each situation less anxiety-inducing
Once you’ve identified your anxiety-inducing sitatuons, it’s time to start thinking of ways you can make yourself feel more comfortable with them.
But keep in mind, “avoiding” is NOT (I repeat NOT) a valid solution! Going through life attempting to just dodge every situation that makes you feel uncomfortable is only going to add to the problem. Trust me, it may make you feel good in the moment, but it will not serve you in the long term.
Instead, try to think of little things you can do to just relieve some of your stress. It could be as simple as doing some deep breathing exercises before going into a nerve-racking social situation.
For me, I found that the most effective way to combat my social anxiety was to just expose myself to situations that made me feel anxious. I didn’t like it at first, but the more I forced myself to do it, the more comfortable I got with it. If you can get used to being comfortable even in slightly awkward situations, a whole new world will open up for you!
3. Prepare yourself beforehand
This is something I’ve been doing for-ever! And I promise you, it works – VERY WELL.
If I’m going into a social situation where I know I may not have many things to talk about, I prepare a little list in advance of stories I’ll share or questions I’ll ask. I know, I know – it may sound a bit “over-achiever”, but hey – it does the job!
This is especially helpful for coming out of quarantine and reconeccting with people you maybe haven’t seen in several months. It can be super awkward knowing how to summarize an entire 4-5 months of your life where you’ve been doing prettttty much nothing at home!
Here’s a great list of conversation starters to get you inspired by ‘people expert’ Vanessa Van Edwards!
4. Find ways to practice – start small, and slowly work up
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the BEST way to overcome your anxiety is to face your fears head-on. This goes for social anxiety as well!
Start by choosing low-stress social situations. What makes you slightly anxious, but not overly anxious? Talking to strangers on the phone? Talking to friends on the phone? Meeting people for coffee? Again, it’s totally different for everyone.
Once you’ve gotten used to exposing yourself to these “low-risk” situations, raise the bar a little bit. Keep working yourself up to more anxiety-inducing situations bit-by-bit until finally, you’re ready to face your biggest fears. This is called ‘exposure therapy’, and it works amazingly. In fact, it was the #1 way I was able to overcome social anxiety myself!
Other tips for coming out of quarantine
I know it can be awkward meeting people in person but still staying 6 feet apart. You may feel like you’re being cold by not hugging someone or shaking their hands. I say, just address the elephant in the room! Try saying outright, “I’d shake your hand (or hug you), but you probably don’t want my germs!”. You’d be surprised at how well this can break the tension!
I also suggest mirroring the other person and just doing what they do. This can release a lot of pressure on you to “do the right thing”. Sometimes, it’s good to be a follower!
Below, you’ll find links to some more helpful resources that will guide you in getting to the root cause of your social anxiety so that you can learn how to overcome it – I highly recommend checking them out!
Sagesse ("Say Jess")
Owner of Mindaya