How to Cope with the Social Anxiety of Having to Return to In-Person Routines

Depression and Anxiety

As more people are getting vaccinated, many states and businesses are looking to return to in-person routines by summer. For most, this signifies two complex realities – (1) there’s finally the sight of a light at the end of the tunnel and (2) returning to in-person routines while continuing to process what a year in quarantine has been like, won’t be quick or easy. Add in the ongoing racial injustices experienced in America, and this increases the social anxiety of BIPOC, who at least had the physical comfort of working remotely while trying to combat the fatigue of pressures of productivity and the effects of white supremacy on their nervous systems.

There are also folx who have undergone life-cycle transitions during this pandemic, such as: having been hired by a new company for which they have yet to meet staff in-person; having experienced losses and relationship changes, or for once- having had their introverted lifestyle be accepted and mirrored by the world during quarantine when having previously been unaccepted. The unwinding of what felt like acceptance during this pandemic for introverts can now trigger a felt sense of obligation to appear more “ready” for social engagements.

Then there are social butterflies who are also experiencing social anxiety, after a year of suppressed longing for close proximity, gatherings, and more physical touch. Additionally, after a year of what can seem like non-action, there may be insecurity on how to “resume” being one’s self and engaging one’s dominant instinct: being social. Questions might even arise about “what is enough” when beginning to resume gathering with others. Perhaps, you might be a social butterfly who is also wondering how much others will expect you to liven things up at gatherings.

No matter where you are on the spectrum of social anxiety for returning to in-person routines, or your reasons, a common human sharing is that this will be a transition for all. Therefore, honoring your own pace in adjusting to yet another transition, is what will help you continue to heal and thrive. So, below are some tips for how to cope with your own social anxiety as you return to in-person routines.

1. Identify and normalize the feelings connected to your social anxiety (i.e., fear, uncertainty, worry, anticipation, etc.). After a year of quarantine, it makes complete sense that returning to in-person contact and functioning would stir up a varying of responses in you. There’s enough space for all of your feelings and neither of them has to cancel the others out.

2. Check the expectations that you may be holding for yourself as you return to in-person contact and functioning. For example, you might be expecting your presence to appear more “energetic, dynamic, or engaged” to compensate for virtual exhaustion or to feel “different”. These expectations and pressures only increase your social anxiety and trigger a narrative of “not being enough”. Instead, focus on what is actually good enough about you. Trust your natural goodness and instincts- these qualities have not gone away while you’ve been in quarantine; they will just need more time to warm up.

3. Give yourself permission to integrate back into in-person functioning on your own even if others are seemingly moving “faster” than you are, you deserve to honor your own pace (your own pace is connected to your own healing and recovery time). For example, initiate touch only when you’re ready; intentionally choose the duration of time you’d like to spend at any appointment or outing. Give yourself safe proximity when returning to work in person and take regular breaks.

4. Resist the pressure of trying to “make up” for the time spent in quarantine. It’s not your fault nor your responsibility that we all endured a pandemic and were separated from loved ones. A steady and intentional stride far more self-care, than risking burnout by overcommitting to social engagements. Also, the rest of the world will be integrating back into in-person routines, too. This time we’ll have a shifted lens of what’s essential and what’s not essential in our everyday lives.

5. Remind yourself that it’s safe to move out of survival mode and list the reasons why each day. Example: The purpose of surviving is not to do it all over again, but to intentionally move out [of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn] and to thrive.

6. As you start to return to in-person contact and functioning, take inventory at the end of each day of how you showed up and connect it to your inherent worth. Here’s a guide: “I was able to [fill in the blank], because I am [fill in the blank].”**This is a great prompt by NICABM**

You’ve already done the hardest part- which is surviving [or even having thrived] during a global pandemic and ongoing racial injustice circumstances. Now, pace yourself.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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