Ready to move out of Social Distancing mode?

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Pandemic buddies!  These two did not do well at physically distancing…..

Most of us have lived under uncomfortable lockdown restrictions for more than a year.

And by now, we’ve probably settled into a familiar quarantine routine that looks something like this: Wake up, (don’t) put on real pants, nod and smile on our Zoom call of the day, talk to (argue with?) the dog, go for our daily walk, and settle into bed just to start all over again the next day.

If we’re lucky, we might get a package in the mail.

But now with the availability of the vaccine, we can finally see a light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel. And while some of us might be starved for social connection, others might feel anxiety about engaging with their friends or being in public in the post-pandemic world. 

After spending the past year in isolation, it makes sense that the thought of picking up where we left off scares us. 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 continue doing that awkward air hug thing? 

Even those of us who have been vaccinated might still be nervous about catching or transmitting COVID-19 because it’s been drilled into our brains for so long that being social is bad.  Although unlikely this was the intended message, this is what many people have internalized. We can’t just turn those feelings off with a switch. 

I want to encourage you not to let a little fear and trepidation turn into full-blown social anxiety. Having good conversations and laughing with people that just get us is crucial to our well-being.  We can continue to physically distance, in defined situations as the science recommends, however, we need to remove the idea of socially distancing.

I’ve put together some simple tips to help you re-engage as lockdown restrictions begin to lift. 

1. Get outside for a physically-distanced 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, as you’re able to wear a mask, if needed, and stay 6 feet apart, but still enjoy the benefits of in-person conversation. 

2. Meet 1 or 2 people for coffee, rather than having a full-blown dinner party with your entire friend group.  Meet up with a few close friends for a low-pressure cup of coffee to teach your brain that this is good for you. 

3. Challenge negative thoughts when they arise. It’s too easy to put ourselves down. Whenever you have a negative thought such as, “I feel like 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. Go clean out the office that you haven’t been to in a year.  I know that this one probably feels especially daunting, but try to think of it like a treasure hunt. What will you find? A $20 bill? Your long-lost favorite pair of earrings? Your leftover turkey sandwich from last year? My office still had the calendar in March 2020, which was the last time I saw someone in person.  It was such a strange sight!

5. Get your work done in 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 OK to be cautious – but it’s not OK to avoid engaging completely. The longer you avoid, the more these activities will feel like a threat to you. 

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