8 Ways to Come Out of Your Shell Post-Pandemic

In March 2020, life changed suddenly. Businesses shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and everyone, except for essential workers, quarantined at home. Stay-at-home orders canceled social outlets like coffee dates, happy hour, vacations, weddings, group workouts, and family holidays.

Managing Alone Time

How well you adjusted to the newfound solitude depends on where your personality lands on the introversion and extroversion spectrum. Extroverts gain energy by interacting with others. Losing the chance to socialize with friends and co-workers was a tough adjustment for many.

In contrast, introverts recharge by spending time alone. Despite the stereotype of introverts as quiet loners, some introverts are quite comfortable in social settings. They just need alone time to regroup in between events.

When governors issued quarantine orders, social media responded. Introverts posted memes welcoming the solitude of quarantine. “I’ve been training for this my whole life,” said one.

This summer, the country is reopening. Almost all states will remove social distancing restrictions by July 1. Now a message frequently appearing on social media is, “I’m not ready!”

We’re All Socially Awkward Now

For more than a year, we were at home in sweatpants interacting on zoom calls. When we went out, usually for shopping, we wore masks and stayed six feet apart.

Research shows that people in isolated settings, like astronauts and soldiers, experience a decline in social skills. Without practice, social skills can atrophy like muscles. Long periods of isolation result in feeling awkward, socially anxious, and irritated by situations that previously felt normal. This is not a psychological issue, it is the collective experience of everyone who endured a reduced level of social interaction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No matter where you fit on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, the past year was a time of growing self-awareness. Maybe you realized that a full social calendar is too exhausting. After a year of keeping in touch with a small pod, you’re ready to permanently reduce your friend group. To your surprise, while you enjoy your solitude, you do miss chatting with co-workers in the break room.

Even if you are looking forward to the end of social distancing, it is normal to have some discomfort after a year of following strict health guidelines. A few common concerns include:

  • Fear of getting sick: although many people are vaccinated, not everyone is. A vaccinated person can potentially be infected with a mild case of covid19. They could then spread it to others, such as small children or relatives who are immunocompromised.
  • Anxiety about social skills: After a year of minimal contact with others, people wonder “what if my social skills are lacking?” Everyday activities like making small talk, attending a wedding or being at a social event cause anxiety.
  • Return of unpleasant situations: during quarantine, you likely gained insight into activities or relationships you’d rather leave behind. Reopening can make you feel forced to resume those interactions.

Eight Ways to Come out of Your Shell Post-Pandemic

The end of a year of social distancing is a big change for everyone. But research suggests that extroverts look forward to spending time with friends, co-workers, and family. Introverts flourish in solitude, so returning to the normal patterns of life can be more challenging.

For anyone who feels awkward, there’s no need to immediately resume your former lifestyle, if you feel uncomfortable. Gradually start socializing. If possible, negotiate to return to the office only one or two days a week initially. Following are eight ways for introverts to deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

  1. Start small: If resuming your normal routine after covid makes you anxious, begin gradually. Ease yourself back into socializing by starting with one or two brief events. Then progressively increase your exposure to social occasions. Just because your friends are scheduling all the get-togethers they missed last year, doesn’t mean you have to go. Decide how many events you can handle in a week and say no to the rest.
  2. Schedule alone time: allow yourself time to recharge your batteries. Plan time alone, get enough sleep, practice relaxation techniques and eat a healthy diet.
  3. Play a video game: in a survey of online gamers, 73 percent stated that multiplayer games provided them with a social life, stress relief and anxiety management, among other benefits. For introverts navigating the end of social distancing, the benefits are twofold. Video games provide a low-stakes way to engage socially and a way to relax and recharge.
  4. Let go: not every friendship is worth reviving. Be intentional about resuming friendships. If you stopped socializing with friends and you don’t miss seeing them, it is OK to let them go.
  5. Be self-aware: notice when socializing is making you tired. Take a break or make an early exit. Don’t force yourself to stay for one more drink or chat with one more person. Just because you did something before, like host houseguests for a week, doesn’t mean you can handle it now.
  6. Get a partner: find a friend who understands your socialization needs. Support each other and discuss your successes and struggles each week.
  7. Show empathy: remember that everyone is going through the same thing. Be warm and friendly to help others feel at ease. Also show compassion to yourself. Don’t force yourself to resume your old activities too fast. If you are uncomfortable hugging or shaking hands, avoid them until you feel safe.
  8. Know what you’re getting into: when you receive an invitation, learn the details about the event. Is it indoors or outdoors? How many people will be there? That will make you feel comfortable if you choose to attend.

Ways to Come Out of Your Shell Post Pandemic

If you feel socially awkward after a year at home, don’t worry. Everyone else is in the same boat. Take your time and gradually resume your social life. As social distancing rules are relaxed, there will be awkward moments. Let them come and go. Remember to be compassionate with others and most of all with yourself. The hardest part is behind us.

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