With many of us back to the workplace or hybrid working while the world opens up post pandemic, a study shows that 49% of adults aren’t entirely comfortable with a return to social interactions1. Here’s how to get yourself mentally ready...
1. Take small steps
With sporting, theatre and music events back on track - depending on where you are in the world – it’s natural to have concerns about a return to the wider world, so it’s important to be mindful of going from one extreme to the other. Taking yourself from a situation where it was you and perhaps your immediate family to being in the centre of a crowd of hundreds or even thousands, might not be the best way to manage your mental well-being.
Start slowly. It could be as simple as putting yourself in a social situation once a week at first, then adding events in order to build up slowly, gradually increasing both the time spent socialising and the frequency of those interactions.
2. Start a new routine
Car keys? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Face mask? Check. Not all of the routines we’ve developed during the COVID-19 pandemic should be abandoned, just adapted, and added to general routines for personal health and safety. Regularly washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, sanitizing and wearing your face mask on public transport are all routines that you’ll have seen in some countries even before the pandemic, and will now become part of our everyday. And it’s not just for reasons of physical safety that they’re good for you, they become a source of reassurance when you’re in social situations and, in becoming second nature, allow you to spend less time thinking about the pandemic or infection because you automatically know you’ve armed yourself as best you can.
3. Assess the situation
When people talk about getting the best tables in restaurants, they will often advise booking a Tuesday lunchtime, rather than a busy Friday. The end result is the same, the best food, but without the crowds. You can apply this logic to your everyday so that you’re going into social situations where there are likely to be fewer people. Even if you’re going to a popular restaurant or bar, by tweaking the time you meet up by an hour, either earlier or later, or switching to a different day in the same week, you’re not compromising on your experience, but you are putting yourself in a situation which you know you’ll find mentally more manageable.
4. Rationalise the situation
With the continued success of the vaccine roll-out across most of the world, the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 is statistically reduced compared to the height of the pandemic. Rationalising the situation is a bold mindset to have, but it’s harder to rewire your brain to think this way when you’re about to meet up with friends or family you weren’t able to see previously. One thing that can help you is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which gives you the tools to break down an irrational way of thinking, i.e. ‘if I go out into the world, I’ll get sick’, to a more logical thought process, ‘if I’ve had my vaccination, wear a face mask and continue to wash my hands regularly, then I’ve protected myself as best I can’. CBT can allow you to develop coping skills that unclutter your mind’s first thoughts to work out the reality and practicality of a situation.
5. Consider others
Either consciously or not, the attitude and actions of others can make social situations harder to manage. If you’re going out with a friend that you know is more likely to take risks in any situation, be open about your feelings or anxieties regarding stepping into the wider world again. This will at least allow them to be mindful when they’re trying to persuade you to go into a social situation that could be busier than you’re comfortable with.
6. Limit your scroll time
Even now, some daily headlines from around the globe still focus on the pandemic, so limit your newsfeed to help reduce any anxiety. This could be achieved by either editing the list of those you follow to give you a more positive social feed, or simply by spending less time ‘doom scrolling’ until you find the bad news you’ve inadvertently been looking for. The same applies to face-to-face conversations and steering away from the topics that are likely to come back to the concerns and fears around the pandemic or other situations.