By Ann Stromberg, MSW, LISW, Emotional Wellness Coordinator
If you have made the choice to be vaccinated against COVID-19 you know that giddy feeling that accompanies the vaccination appointment. That little white card that shows the world we are fully vaccinated is our passport out of isolation. However, for some people, the joy of freedom can become anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what lies ahead.
If your hopefulness has been replaced with some new anxious feelings, you are not alone. Uncertainty about how to move forward is real. How do we become “normal” again?
What about reentering social and office spaces? Your first question may be whether others are vaccinated, and how safe you are as a result. People are also expressing anxiety about how we will interact. We are ready to break out, but what are the new rules? Spending a year socially isolated means many of us have become accustomed to spending time alone(ish). Inner conflict occurs because we want to connect, but connecting creates anxiety.
Do you wonder if you still know how to be social? We have all been there doing the awkward social dance: should I reach out to hug, shake hands, or what? It’s just not automatic anymore.
Anxiety is normal. If you are getting ready to head back to the office or considering an upcoming social event, know that anxiety can be managed. One of the best strategies to manage anxiety is to troubleshoot the situation. Ask yourself what is concerning, and devise a plan to handle it. You may want to create an “exit strategy.” If you have a plan, you will feel more in control of the situation.
Similarly, if you know you are returning to the office, you can troubleshoot first. Your office will have new policies in place; take the time to read them, or ask for more information. It is also always possible to continue to take the safety precautions that help you feel safe. One thing that is universal as we move out into the world is our choice, which gives us a sense of control, which lessens the anxiety.
Anxiety is like focusing on an object through a zoom lens, you only see a small part of the picture. Pulling back to the wide-angle lens you can see the big picture and the focal point fades into the background. Shift your attention to your space in the picture, and create the space you need.
Another perhaps surprising concern is getting used to socializing again. Little things like eye contact, small talk, and other people’s idiosyncrasies may take some time to get comfortable with again. It seems odd to think you may have lost some social skills, but a year is a long time. It is always easier to start back with small steps. Most importantly, accept that anything you are feeling is normal for you at this time. We will each have varying levels of comfort. Take a few minutes and assess what you need. Listen to what your instinct tells you. We spent twelve-plus months in a truly unprecedented situation. Moving forward, it will take some time to feel “normal” again.