As COVID-19 cases drop down to manageable numbers and vaccinated people take off their masks, you might have mixed feelings about re-entering society.
Rest assured, you’re not alone. Getting back into the quality of the life you led in the community prior to the pandemic will be different now and there are some diverse stressors to consider. Here are some tips on how to navigate.
Summit Health Behavioral Health provider Lacey Sheppard, LCSW says that many of her patients have brought up the issue of how to socialize again during this unique time.
“It is important to recognize that you are likely not the only one feeling ambivalence or worry,” she says. “Many are questioning how to interact, whether or not to wear a mask, how close is appropriate, and if it’s okay to gather inside and outside”.
A very salient impact of this pandemic has been the lack of physical human connection. Many have not seen loved ones for over a year out of thoughtful intention, following CDC guidelines, and in order to mitigate COVID-19 risk. And therefore, this has caused significant isolation for many. When ready to socialize again, it is important to be curious about your own comfort level, feelings, and boundaries.
Lacey suggests beginning with having a conversation with the people you are missing and would like to see again. She says, “Talking with loved ones about your own comfort level and asking about their preferences will help reduce the worry of the unknown”.
When communicating with loved ones, realize that they may have a different opinion. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the awareness that we are such unique human beings capable of interpreting and engaging in several different behaviors in response to our surroundings. So, if your loved one has a different preference from you, that is okay, and you can offer to meet them in a way that works for you both. Look out for judgmental thoughts and practice some empathy for the people you love, who may have a different opinion.
A tip for communicating preferences in re-connection that she offers is, “to own your truth by sharing what you need and how you feel. Then check it out with your loved one, to see what will work for them”. It is okay to have healthy boundaries, to not compromise, and to acknowledge the factors that are difficult when trying to re-engage again.
Activities and outings
Of course, self-advocacy will change with guidelines and vaccination status. As of now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have announced that fully vaccinated Americans can take off their masks outdoors safely and indoors when in the company of other fully vaccinated individuals. This means that, as of now, you can dine inside a restaurant, go to theaters and museums that are beginning to re-open, and enjoy other sources of entertainment.
But you should still mask up in crowded places—airports, concerts, shopping malls—where you’re unsure of everyone’s status. And if you’re immunocompromised or have a close family member who may not have a full immune response to the vaccine due to an underlying medical condition or who is ineligible for vaccination, you should also exercise precautions.
Take note of how you’re feeling
In any event, Lacey says, one of the most important things to do is to check in with yourself. She says, “Oftentimes we are focused on what others want or what other people may be doing. That old comparison trap is a recipe for worry to grow every time”. Another tip, that many find helpful is a self-check-in, which is simply taking time to quietly reflect on your thoughts, emotions, associations, memories, and sensations. You could write this down or talk it through with a trusted loved one. When we take a moment to pause and check in, it serves as a pulse check for our mental health. It can then make you better aware of what you need to do next. If we listen to what is happening within us and then honor what we need with the people around us, the connection may happen more smoothly.