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We’re All Feeling Post-COVID Social Anxiety. Here’s What You Can Do About It.

By Amelia Quint

While many of us are excited that “hot vax summer” has finally arrived, there’s no denying that stepping out post-COVID has its own share of stressors. Whether you’re going on IRL dates again, meeting up with your friends, or heading back to co-working spaces, everyone’s experiencing a new set of firsts. The intense emotions that go along with them can be seriously overwhelming.

Flexing our interpersonal muscles again will take practice, so what can we do to strengthen them as we go back out into the world? Ahead, we talked to a therapist, a care worker, and a career coach for advice on how to navigate life outside the four walls of our homes again without overextending our inner resources. Here’s what they had to say:

Take your time to adjust

Though many of us are impatient to get out of our homes and back into our favorite haunts, it’s important to honor the difficulty of what’s just transpired, as well as what it’ll take to process the experience.

“It can feel overwhelming to be asked to restructure our lives again,” says Sara Kuburic of The Millennial Therapist. “As a consequence of going ‘back’, many individuals will have to let go of or even grieve certain aspects of their lives that they enjoyed during the pandemic.” She explains how, for some, that may mean that the expectations and demands of everyday life will come back as well, like driving to work, getting dressed up, or small talk—all of which can take a toll on your energy levels.

“It will take some time to adjust to the new normal,” Kuburic adds. “Setting boundaries is key to honouring our needs. We shouldn’t necessarily try to go back – the ‘old’ way of existing didn’t always promote our wellbeing. This upcoming transition can offer us an opportunity to ease back into society slowly, with awareness.”

Rebuild your community

For Christa Lei Sonido—a healthcare worker with side hustles as an astrologer, tarot reader, and reiki specialist—prioritizing where they put their energy is everything. Their advice? “Start small! As someone who is neurodivergent, the best advice I’ve ever received is to chunk things into small, actionable steps so that a challenging task is less daunting.”

Sonido recommends applying the same approach to rebuilding your social life after COVID, slowly reaching out to people in your circle or community, including those you may have lost touch with. “If you don’t have a trusted pod group, create one!” They advise. “That way you’re flexing your social muscles while also staying as safe as you can, even if that means doing something small like going to the grocery store and having a pleasant conversation with your cashier. Build up from there!”

While you’re at it, don’t forget that your community also includes professionals who can support this process. “Seek outside help so that your inner resources and energy aren’t tapped out,” Sonido says. “Some people prefer life coaches, energy healers, clergy members, or therapists! It’s helpful to find someone who can motivate you.”

Check in with yourself

When you think about going back to workspaces, listening to your heart might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But for coach and consultant Margo Downs, who led human resources at both StitchFix and Lululemon, it’s first on the priority list. “One of the practices I would use is checking in with your mind, heart, and gut,” she says. “It’s about tuning into what’s coming up. What’s happening in your brain? Is it overloaded? If so, it may be time to prioritize and let some things go.” Downs recently spoke on a panel with other HR leaders, and all of them mentioned well-being as a major focus going forward.

For survival and emotional safety, many of us have had to close down our boundaries to get through this tough time. But Downs explains: “When your heart is closed, you’re not as available to yourself or to other people. It sounds kind of romantic, but it’s actually more about resilience, because when your heart is open, you have more agency.” And in order to get through this transition and open our hearts again, resilience is a quality we’ll have to cultivate in all areas of our lives.

“Ultimately, it’s about bringing more compassion,” Downs says. “It’s about bringing more, dare I say, love—and being available to people in that way.”