Ask the Therapist: Suspicious of Socializing
Dear Dr. Amy:
I looked at the calendar this week and realized COVID has been a part of people’s lives for one year. I also know people now are getting vaccinated. I have friends who have gotten vaccinated and are anxious to get back to their “normal,” pre-COVID lives.
While I am happy that we’re keeping people safe, I’m having anxiety about returning to “normalcy.” I’ve found that being home more often is comfortable for me. I’ve started to feel more anxiety when I leave the house, and even though I know I’ll be safe once we’re all vaccinated, I’m still having an emotional response to being around other people.
How do I balance going back into the world with my friends with managing my sensory overload and anxiety?
-Suspicious of Socializing
This is a great question. As more people become vaccinated, we can expect changes to our daily lives and routines. It makes sense that you are feeling some anxiety about changes and that you have feelings about the disease that has impacted all of our lives for the past year.
Though people have been getting the COVID vaccine, you are allowed to make decisions that work best for you. Just because someone decides to go out to eat does not mean you have to participate. Spend time thinking about and deciding for yourself what feels comfortable to you: What are your boundaries? Are you comfortable being indoors with others? Do you prefer everyone to be masked, or are you comfortable going unmasked once you are vaccinated? These limits will help you find a balance.
You don’t have to defend your choices to be cautious. You are entitled to set boundaries and make decisions to keep yourself safe. If others question you, practice telling them “I’m not comfortable with that. Let’s do something else instead.” Others may not agree; they don’t have to agree.
It also is completely understandable that after spending a full year being told it’s unsafe to leave your home, you would feel anxiety about leaving home. Take things slowly. You can practice going outside and walking around the block or seeing friends at a park for short periods of time. If you start to feel anxious, try bringing a comfort item with you, or doing something that’s enjoyable to distract yourself until you go home. Over time, you’ll start to grow more comfortable with being out in the world again.
Finally, if you noticed that this time felt more comfortable for you, that’s good information! This pandemic has helped many of us rethink conceptions of what needs to be “normal.” Even though things are reopening, you may find that you don’t return to exactly the same life you had before. If this time helped you find a life that better suits you, that’s a wonderful silver lining to a bad year.