As restrictions are lifted, many people may feel uncomfortable gathering with family and friends. Susan Cheatham, SLPC, director of behavioral health in the Department of Family Medicine, gives tips and recommendations to ease back into socializing.
By Brittany Otis
More than a year ago, people around the world were told to stay at home as the COVID-19 pandemic raged.
For many, resocialization may be difficult. It is normal to feel afraid or anxious about gathering with family and friends.
“The best way to ease back into socializing is to do what makes you feel comfortable and respect the limits of others,” said Susan Cheatham, SLPC, director of behavioral health in the Department of Family Medicine at USA Health.
“While socializing is normal, many people are not ready to jump back into life as it was before. Many may feel uncomfortable hugging, shaking hands or taking off their mask, so they should adjust their behaviors based on their preferences,” she said.
Cheatham also advises following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. “They are guiding us through this pandemic, so it’s imperative we follow their lead,” she said.
The CDC recommends everyone who is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. It is the most effective way to prevent severe illness and to decrease hospitalizations and deaths. The health agency also recommends masking when needed and practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands and using hand sanitizer whenever possible.
Other ways to combat anxiety about socializing, Cheatham said, is to stay in small groups and only gather with trusted people.
“Anxiety is often based on future focused thoughts such as ‘What if this happens? I need a to-do list to accomplish this task,’” she said. “Managing what needs to be done today can make getting back out less stressful.”
Mental health professionals expect an increase in people seeking help as they get back to work, send their children to school and have more face-to-face interactions. Cheatham recommends anxiety apps to help relieve panic about the future.
“Since we have not experienced anything like this before, it’s hard to tell people how this transition should be handled,” she said. “Everyone accommodated stringent COVID guidelines, and this is another adjustment now that restrictions are being lifted. People are resilient. We can adapt, but it will take time.”