Awkward About Socialising Again? 4 Ways To Ease Back Into Normalcy
The COVID-19 pandemic has made so many of us too comfortable in our bubbles. Initially, limited to close family and friends, these small, exclusive social groups are now expanding. With public spaces and offices opening up, concerns about engaging with the world outside are valid. Here’s how to deal with social awkwardness and re-learn the art of socialising without losing your mind.
At the time when Covid-19 is showing some signs of fade out, you might be feeling socially awkward to shake hands with strangers, hug your close friend or share a meal with colleagues. It is okay to feel that way. Experts say that now that we have been socially isolated for so long, it is inevitable to experience some level of anxiety or awkwardness.
It’s alright to have just two close friends, say ‘no’ to that party or reject a few invitations. “Take your time to re-learn the art of mingling. Practice self-care and socialise at your own pace. This can help reduce any uneasiness you may be feeling,” says Geeta Magesh, consultant clinical psychologist, Hyderabad. She shares some helpful ways to get back to normalcy.
1. Have a routine that you can ease into it: You were on a ‘no rush timetable’ during social isolation. The sudden requirement to re-meet people or attend live meetings can be an added pressure. Therefore, it is important to plan your day. “To start with, form a simple routine. Ease back slowly. Not everyone needs a fully scheduled day. You are unique. Take on what you can, and start with simple changes,” says Magesh. It is easier to find motivation to make small changes in your routine, overtime this can prepare you for re-mingling with people.
2. Listen to your body’s cues and trust your intuition: Your body silently knows what your mind is thinking. You can have sweaty palms, mild shiver, sudden stammers, lack of right words or urge to use the washroom when in a socially anxious situation. “These symptoms happen. Some people can have raised-heartbeat as well,” says Magesh. To deal with these symptoms, it is important to listen to your body. “Get attuned to those signals. Not listening and understanding them can make it worse.” Do a self-enquiry when you feel that a certain symptom is hitting you. Get intuitive and give your body what it needs—may be a few minutes alone or a minute of deep breathing. “For example, if you feel you cannot face a bunch of friends all at once, increase your social situations gradually. The positive experience with one situation can prepare you for further social exposures,” she says. Seek professional help if you feel unable to deal with social anxiety or experience panic attacks.
3. Confront the issue, avoidance coping is unhealthy: Acknowledge your emotions. Avoiding stress leads to more stress. Strive for ‘stress management’ rather than ‘stress avoidance’. A simple technique is to change the way you think about the stressor. For example, if you think that the other person is not following the line of social distancing and now you aren’t comfortable with that level of contact, “instead of feeling agitated or defensive” maintain a mindset that everyone will have a physical distancing plan that is unique to them. Try to be respectful of theirs while maintaining your own.
If you already feel that the social boundaries followed by a particular group/party is outside your comfort level, instead of completely ignoring or not acknowledging the situation, you can try saying things like, “I really appreciate your invitation. Thanks for thinking of me. I’m not comfortable with that amount of contact yet, but how about a movie viewing party, virtual meeting or video call, instead?” “Proposing alternate plans leaves the doors of communication open,” says Magesh.
4. Choose ‘expression’ over ‘touch’ to show care: There are a lot of unknowns that factor into socialising post pandemic. Given that there is a social awkwardness to a certain extent in the entire society—mainly physical contact—one way to cope with this newness is to be mindful of your touching behaviour be it a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. “All of us—have to adapt ourselves to this change,” says Magesh. “Because you do not know that you and the person you bump-into share similar comfort boundaries, it’s better to frame the conversations in terms of your feelings, rather than the actions.” You can say things like “I care about you and want you to stay safe” or “We are in this difficult situation together.” Showing concern via facial expressions and right words seems like the new roads of communication, concludes Magesh.