It’s been nearly a year and a half since the pandemic started in the U.S. For nearly 18 months, people have been isolated in their homes, only interacting with very few people. However, due to increased vaccination rates and lowered restrictions, these same people are now reentering social situations. While some people have retained their social grace, others have experienced new social awkwardness. Additionally, some have felt overwhelmed or exhausted by their new social interactions. If you fall into this camp, keep reading. This article will focus on socializing post pandemic.

Why Am I Experiencing This?

When trying to socialize post pandemic, it can be easy to wonder why you’re even having some trouble. There are actually numerous, natural reasons for this. One such reason may involve the habits that you had to adopt during the pandemic. There’s a good chance that you had to rely on yourself or a few others for engagement and entertainment, and you likely had to get really good at that. If you were in the habit of being alone or simply being with just one or two people, breaking that habit can feel uncomfortable. Essentially, you had to adjust to a certain lifestyle, and now it’s just going to take a little while to change back to an old one.

Another reason why some people are struggling with being social again is due to emotional work/labor. In a nutshell, emotional labor is when an individual feels certain emotions on the inside, but has to put in work to express “appropriate” emotions on the outside. When at work, a person may feel exhausted or crabby, but they have to display a veneer of cheerfulness when interacting with their boss or customers. For some people, they have not experienced as much emotional work due to working at home. However, several people are recognizing that emotional labor when they return to the office. Another factor could deal with judgment based on physical appearance. More specifically, a person might feel anxious about whether others will criticize them for gaining weight or losing muscle during the pandemic. Naturally, this can make current social interactions stressful, awkward or draining for folks. So what can you do?

Go At Your Own Pace

It is easy to think that because things are “going back to normal,” you have to go back to “normal” immediately. There’s the belief that you have to go back to how you were before the pandemic, but that’s not true. This is a fallacy known as “dichotomous/all-or-nothing thinking,” and it leaves no room for anything in-between the extremes. You don’t have to be extremely social, nor do you have to be extremely withdrawn. You can simply engage in social activities at the pace in which you’re comfortable with. For instance, instead of going to a social event every weekend with your friends, you can simply go every other week, or even once a month. Additionally, it’s not as though you have to have long, substantial conversations with every person at your office. It’s fine to only want to speak with a few people as you readjust to being social.

Additionally, it’s okay if you need to take social breaks from your friends or from the people at your job. Eating lunch alone at work, turning down hangouts, and reducing your small talk with co-workers are completely valid. There’s no need to rush your readjustment to being social. Remember, “going back to normal” isn’t really possible. The world prior to the pandemic no longer exists, so be kind to yourself and avoid adhering to standards that no longer apply.

Avoid Self Judgment

Outside of going at your own pace, one of the best things you can do to socialize post pandemic is to avoid self-judgment. Essentially, be kind to yourself during this process. You don’t need to feel pressure to be perfect. After all, you’ve been in a pandemic for 18 months; it’s going to take some time to readjust. On top of this, self-inflicted pressure can actually worsen your social awkwardness or exhaustion. Imagine a music performer who constantly tells themselves that they have to be perfect, that they cannot make mistakes. Now, imagine a different performer who still holds standards for themselves, but allows themselves to make occasional errors. Which performer do you think would have a happier and easier relationship with music? The same applies to you and social interactions.

The corona virus has impacted the world in so many ways. As vaccination rates increase in the U.S., many people are finding social interactions to be awkward or exhausting as they try to socialize post pandemic. Fortunately, there are things that one can do. Understand that what you are experiencing is normal, go at your own pace, and avoid self-judgment. If you are still having difficulties after doing these interventions, try seeing a therapist at the Center for Growth. Schedule a session online at https://www.thecenterforgrowth.com/.