By now it seems pretty obvious: summer is here to stay. At least for a while. Temperatures are rising, incidence rates are dropping, restaurants and bars are opening, friends and families are allowed to reunite. It feels like we can all dare to take a breath and live a little again. But great freedom for one means the exact opposite for another. We’re witnessing a global phenomenon (once more): going from Social Distancing to Social Anxiety. Some experience it more, some less intense, but it affects many, no matter if they’re introverts, extroverts, or somewhere in between. That's why I want to share my experiences, tips, and tricks to feel good during this "Corona summer break", and be comfortable, especially with yourself.
- Social Anxiety: no longer uncommon
- Call for normalization: it starts with you
- How to: post-lockdown life with social anxiety
- Progress isn’t a straight line
1. Social Anxiety: no longer uncommon
The leap back into public life holds different amounts of discomfort for many. Everyday life can be overwhelming, energy-consuming, and exhausting these days, especially in urban areas. Throughout this past freedom-restricted winter, your own four walls have become a nest of more or less solitude and comfort. There was hardly anything happening outside - it was cold, most of the fun places were closed, and socializing forbidden. Pictures of deserted streets in otherwise busy cities went viral on social media. And now? I can only speak for Munich, but here, the incidence dropped so sudden that it felt as if restaurants were allowed to reopen from one day to the next, first only outside seating, by now even inside. Public squares, well-known street corners, parks, and gardens are filled with people wherever you look. Social distancing etiquette seems to have flown out the wind completely. If your stomach starts twisting a little reading this, you'll almost certainly be familiar with the term Social Anxiety. The discomfort, the fear of social interaction, especially in groups, takes on a whole new meaning during these post-lockdown weeks. Psychologists report that their patients* have increasingly expressed problems participating in public life again, going out at all, and being around people, since the restrictions were loosened or abandoned completely. The problem is that social anxiety often entails other stressful phenomena in addition to the anxiety itself.
On the one hand, there is of course the discomfort or even the fear of being surrounded by people, of interacting socially, of being “people-watched”. But as if that alone were not enough to make life difficult, unfortunately, other thought patterns often occur:
- Feelings of guilt for not being able to enjoy your re-won freedom, even though for months you wanted nothing more than to be able to sit in a café or bar with friends.
- Pressure you put on yourself because you can't be as sociable as you were before Covid.
- Jealousy or envy of the people who seem to be able to seamlessly reconnect to their previous lives without any problems, and without any Social Anxiety at all.
- Feeling completely alone with these emotions, not functioning properly as a human being.
- Feeling ashamed for all these emotions and depression, instead of relieved and in desire for freedom.
2. Call for normalization: it start with you
The first step is to realize that you are not alone with these feelings. Even if it seems that way when you look at the carefree gatherings, hear laughter and chatter all around. But I bet that many of those seemingly carefree people are dealing with the same problems you are right at that moment. I know this because I am one of those people. A few weeks ago, when I had to go out to get some groceries, as one does. it was a rather warm and sunny Saturday during lunchtime and usually, I would have loved to go out for a stroll and do the shopping after, but that day, the thought of going out, having to walk across Gärtnerplatz (a rather popular meeting place here in Munich) and then back again, made me procrastinate inside for half the day while the square filled up with more and more people. If I’d had any food at home, I would not have gone out. But eventually, I managed to pick myself up and went out, almost happy to be able to hide my face behind my mask and sunglasses. The sight of groups of people chatting, having drinks or coffee, all relaxed, really stressed me out. Even worse were the crowds at traffic lights. And it is not at all about the fear of Covid, but simply about the discomfort of having to present me in front of so many people. When I was able to close the apartment door behind me again, I realized how much energy this short trip had cost me.
We see this all over Social Media: So many people are sharing their fears and concerns about their struggles with being sociable and their general emotional state. This has helped me enormously to realize that what I feel is a much more common side effect of the pandemic than I previously thought. We all have to get used to this new way of life, to our regained liberties. And just because some of us are better at hiding our social anxiety in public, doesn’t mean that we aren't also mentally working on our level of comfort in social situations.
Social Anxiety is perfectly normal, especially considering the utterly abnormal times we live in. Keeping that in mind has already made being out and about much, much easier for me. But to really enjoy life again this summer, I'm sticking to a few more tips:
3. How to: post-lockdown life with social anxiety
Relieve yourself from the pressure! Your social life doesn't have to go from 0 to 100 just because there are more opportunities for you to fill your free time with. Don't compare your level of social activity with that of others around you. Everyone goes and grows at their own pace and that's perfectly fine. So enjoy your me-time, without feeling guilty, and I’m sure you’ll soon be looking forward to the plans you made to go out again.
Trust your intuition! Consciously remove yourself from situations in which you feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. (I recommend this tip for every situation in life). If you feel like meeting some friends or your family, make a plan! If you feel like it's too much, stay home, have a nice day with yourself. How? Check out the next point.
Take a breathe, keep your balance! Whatever gives you energy and relaxation, schedule it into your week. A quiet walk in the evening, Netflix, preparing a nice meal, taking a bath, tidying up, decluttering, finally finishing that home project you started during the lockdown, and, and, and. If you're in balance with yourself, you'll feel more comfortable around people, too.
Cherish the rainy days! This is not a metaphor expressing that without the heavier days, there wouldn’t be fun days… I mean it literally: grab your umbrella and go for a walk around the city, browse through the stores, sit down at a café. With fewer people around you, you're sure to enjoy being outside. And the next time the sun shines, you might want to do the same thing, despite there being more people around.
Have people over! Who says you have to meet everyone in Bars, Cafés, and Restaurants, just because they’re open again? Invite your friends to your place, host a small dinner party, a private cocktail tasting, a game night, or just sit together and have nice conversations.
Get it off your chest! Talk to your friends and family about how you feel. You will find that many of your experiences are shared experiences without us realizing it. We need to talk about how we are feeling now. Only then can we somehow normalize the emotional state of the world.
4. Progress isn't a straight line
Progress isn’t growing exponentially. Progress means going through ups and downs. Some days we just feel better and others we feel like we're back where we started. And that is ok, because we have our gut feeling, to tell us what it is we need that day.
Accept your pace! No matter how much time you need, it's okay, no matter how long it takes for you to get used to this new world. Don't be so hard on yourself if you have trouble adjusting. Be patient and take a look around. We all face the same challenge together every day. The next time I feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed being around people, I will look around and remind myself of that. Are you in?