As you begin to go out into public, return to work, or attend social events, you may notice a level of discomfort or heightened sensitivity to being in physical proximity to others.  For example, I took my daughter to a mall shopping and we both felt uncomfortable with the number of people out and about.  They were not coming too close to us, they were not offensive in any way, but it just felt like there were “too many people.”  We are both vaccinated and masked so the fear of getting sick was not present. It was just that our perception of others in our physical space has changed over this year.  If I compared it to what the mall experience was like pre- Covid, I would say that the occupancy was about half.  We just are not used to groups of people being near us.  Social distancing is now automatic…I just maintain the 6 feet.

The thing is, other people have different level’s of “ok-ness” with being in the same space as others.  You may think twice before touching close friends and family now, but others do not.  You could be apprehensive about social gatherings; how many people attend.

These feelings are natural reactions to a lifestyle that has been limited to social exposure.  It is important to have self – compassion and compassion toward others during this period of adjustment.  An attitude of gentleness is called upon to ease us back to being with others.

How do we cope with this newfound anxiety about being with others?

Like with any anxiety, avoidance only makes it grow.

  1. Start with small gatherings.  Try going to an event with a small amount of people, say 4-6.  Then work up to more people.  You may start by exposure to people you closer to and work your way up from there.
  2. Limit the time.  Set a time limit that is reasonable for you, maybe 1 hour, and stay flexible.  Know you can leave before that or stay longer if you want.
  3. Take it slow.  Don’t feel obligated to fill up your week or month with events just because you haven’t seen people in a while.
  4. Remind yourself that you have courage.It is uncomfortable to engage socially at times.  However, community with others helps them and ourselves.  As Rick Hanson, Ph.D. points out, the root word of courage is “heart.”  Connecting with others in a manner that is well intended is what counts.
  5. Communicate your feelings to others.Expressing that you may be feeling uncomfortable may help you gain support and compassion from others.  For example, if a friend invites you to a party and you feel uncomfortable attending, you may express your apprehension to meeting him/her in that setting and instead ask to meet one to one for a walk or coffee.

Little by little being among others will feel less weird.  Accept the process, practice kindness, and you will adjust with greater ease.

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