Re-entry anxiety is a very real thing, one many people struggle with. After spending so many months cut off from the interactions we took for granted our entire lives, we have become rusty and out of practice. Misunderstandings happen more frequently. Cues are missed. Communication, never a smooth flowing brook in the first place, is choppy.
Today’s column comes courtesy of a reader who finds themselves struggling with re-entry anxiety after finding most of the wheels on their socialization car pandemic flat. Socializing, which many people find challenging at the best of times, becomes even harder during times of stress. How does one re-inflate the flat tires of their socialization car and pull back onto the highway? Let’s find out, shall we?
“Socializing has always been hard for me. After this many months spent cut off from concerts, parties, events, seeing people in person…I feel like I have forgotten how to do it! I’m now vaxxed and there are starting to be more events happening. I WANT to meet more people and get out, but I am so anxious that I always seem to mess it up. Any tips?”–Socializing Is Going Horribly
If it helps any SIGH, you are certainly not the only person to find yourself stuck in Anxietyland. I’ve actually had a fair number of people write in with variations of this topic. After so long spent stuck inside with limited interactions, trying to shake off our social rust can seem like an impossible task to achieve. So many stalled conversations, confusion, and missed connections! They stack upon each other as you slide down into social quicksand, unable to stay afloat.
Don’t Forget To Breathe
Anxiety is a rough train to ride and once it has pulled out of the station, it is extremely hard to disembark. Your best bet is to not get on the train in the first place. The most effective way to achieve this? Breathing exercises. Breathing in deeply through your nose, long slow breaths. Studies have shown that deep breathing can combat insomnia and anxiety. If you haven’t already incorporated breathing exercises into your daily routine, now would be a great time to start!
It is a forgivable impulse to want to rush into making up for all of the fun we feel we have missed out on recently. However, remember that when we enter a situation with a specific expectation, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. The higher your expectations are, the greater your chances of having them dashed. Anxiety, high expectations, and disappointment can all combine into a toxic brew that only seems to grow stronger and sharper over time.
Start With Bitesize Socializing
What to do? Relax! Go slow. Keep those expectations low and gradually build up those social muscles. It will get easier the more you do it. Start off with minor things. Have a slightly longer conversation with a cashier.* Compliment someone on a job well done. Volunteer somewhere. Volunteering is one of the best ways to successfully interact with others.
Did something go wrong? Do you frequently feel like you said or did the wrong thing? Again, relax. Even if you did, it isn’t the end of the world. As long as we learn from mistakes and work on not repeating them in the future, we are on the right path. Even if an interaction goes so poorly the other person never talks to you again, remember that they are probably just as stressed as you are. Everything you are trying to handle— your health, your job, daily existence, endless inconveniences, they are having to deal with the exact same issues as well. All of those stressors increase the chances of miscommunication.
Keep practicing your breathing. Challenge yourself daily. Keep learning and improving. Be as kind and patient as you can be with everyone around you. If that is the energy that you consistently bring to the table, you will find that socializing with others will get easier and that rust will start to wear away, I promise. Best of luck SIGH!
*Only if the cashier seems receptive. Holding up a line to practice socializing with someone just trying to do their job is not what I am recommending. I am talking about the difference between responding “Yes.” when they ask you if you have found everything you are looking for versus saying something like “Yes, thank you. Have you ever tried these before?” (hold up something from your cart) “They are really good!”
The second response is positive, it asks a question about the other person, it isn’t personal and it is really easy to answer. Most importantly, it helps you feel a little bit more at ease with social interaction. There are small opportunities like that all around you. The more you look for them, the more you will find.
Keep it Kinky My Friends,
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