Coping With Anxiety as Mask Mandates Lift

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It’s been two years since the start of the pandemic. If you live in Oregon or another state with a mask mandate, grabbing your face mask on the way out the door has become as natural as grabbing your wallet and keys. 

But just in time for spring, mask mandates are lifting once again. For many people, especially the newly single, this might feel like a lot of change at once. And even positive change can lead to anxiety. 

We might be feeling a lot of worry about engaging with our friends again or going out in public, especially if we spent most of the past two years only interacting with our partner. We might be wondering, “What do I talk about?”, “What is the perfect ratio of eye contact to glancing away?”, “Do I hug them goodbye, or do we keep doing that awkward air hug thing?” 

Here’s the thing, though – isolation is actually really bad for us. A recent study showed social isolation could lead to brain inflammation, impaired memory, and immune dysfunction. 

So let’s embrace the “fresh start” feeling that comes with a new season and put ourselves back out there. Let’s remember how good it feels to catch up over dinner and a glass of wine, to see our friend’s eyes crinkle when they laugh, or to simply have a conversation without FaceTime glitches. 

Below are a few simple tips to help you re-emerge this spring. All of these tips can be done at a physical distance, if that makes you more comfortable, while still getting the social benefit. 

1. Get outside for a walk with a friend. There’s nothing like sunshine on your face to lift your spirit. This option is good for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet or who still have COVID-related anxiety as you can stay physically distant while still enjoying the benefits of good conversation. 

2. Meet one or two people for coffee, rather than having a full-blown dinner party with your entire friend group. Enjoying a low-pressure cup of coffee with friends will remind your brain that connection is good for you. 

3. Challenge negative thoughts when they arise. Whenever you have a negative thought such as, “I’m acting so weird and stumbling all over my words”, challenge that thought with, “They’re probably just as nervous as I am, and too focused on how they’re acting to pay that much attention to me.” Remember – just because you have a thought, doesn’t make it true. 

4. Clean your workspace. It’s hard to focus or feel calm when you’re surrounded by chaos. Take 30 minutes to take out the garbage, clear clutter, and wipe down your desk and devices. 

5. Take your work to a coffee shop. Bringing your work to a coffee shop is a great way to be social without any obligation. You can make small talk with the barista or the person sitting next to you, or you can simply feel inspired by and absorb the energy of the other people there. 

Let me emphasize that it’s okay to be cautious, but it’s not okay to avoid engaging completely. The longer you avoid, the more these activities will feel like a threat to you.

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