Take ‘Baby Steps’ in Post-Vaccine Socializing, Say Experts

More than 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and that means more people will be socializing with other vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Some individuals are looking forward to mingling with others after a year of social distancing, but for others, re-entry may be fraught with anxiety.

According to USA Today, experts recommend taking baby steps if the thought of socializing is overwhelming.

“It’s important to know yourself. What is enough socializing? What is too much?” says Marilyn Fettner, a career and life coach in the Chicago area. “Notice yourself, notice your own reaction and how you’re feeling about getting back into a social life.”

The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America report found that nearly half of Americans feel uneasy about returning to in-person interaction. Those uneasy feelings are normal, say experts, and everyone has a different comfort level.

Dr. Debra O’Shea, a clinical psychologist based in New York City who specializes in anxiety, advised taking “baby steps,” according to USA Today. “Dip your foot in the pond slowly.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on April 27, that said fully vaccinated people no longer are required to wear masks while outdoors. The agency also said it was okay for fully vaccinated people to attend small, outdoor gatherings with other fully vaccinated or unvaccinated people, according to USA Today.

But experts told the newspaper that if social interaction is causing anxiety, pick and choose where, when, and especially with whom you want to mingle.

“Find your group, your people who you are comfortable with, and start socializing with them and then branch out,” said O’Shea. “You don’t have to see everybody now.” She told USA Today that it’s okay to politely decline invitations,

Fettner said there are many ways to politely bow out of an invite. “Start with something positive, thank the person for the invitation,” she advised. “If you feel that you need to say no, see if you can also include the possibility of maybe getting together next week or maybe in two weeks.”

Charley Gavigan, a psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders, told BBC News she has seen a lot of patients panicking about rejoining society.

“Focus on the present,” she said, adding that it is important to find ways to feel more at ease in social settings. “Many people in social situations hold themselves to these standards of being exceptional and the life and soul of the party. Maybe it’s just about being good enough and seeing how they can relax themselves.”

Her advice for preparing for normal life again is to redirect your energy. Instead of stressing about all the outcomes of a social situation, “think what you can do to feel more at ease,” the Glasgow-based expert told BBC News.

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