Updated: Jan 7
We are still taking our first steps towards normality after almost two years since the first lockdown, precipitated by the pandemic context. As we rebuild our social relationships and reevaluate the people that matter most to us, from closest friends to family members, we are gradually overcoming the background of social isolation.
However, after long months of isolation and with the reality of long-distance relationships installed, whether at work, school, or in personal life, it can be natural and even quite common for us to experience difficulties in interacting with other people.
In addition, people report concerns such as “will I know what to say and how to behave when I get back together again?”, “I was so used to giving presentations or having online meetings, how will it be now that I have to speak in front of an audience?”. You certainly also experienced anxiety about, for example, how to start or end interactions without a handshake, a kiss, or a hug, or about the possibility of running out of a topic. Accompanying these events, people may also feel exhausted and tired after long social interactions. For the more introverted ones, it will be an increased need to be alone after an interaction, for the more extroverted ones it will be a novelty that they may look at with a certain strangeness or fear ("I don't know what's wrong with me, I get tired when I'm with my friends and I often prefer to stay at home than face hours of social interaction”).
A new nuclear challenge arises: how to socially reconnect?
Fortunately, we are highly social beings, and the skills needed to connect with other human beings are innate and quite enduring. It is also true that we have a great capacity for resilience and adaptation, even to adverse contexts or low ideals, which means that, with the lockdown, we have developed the habit of connecting with others through virtual windows.
As we turn the page back to normality, it is natural that our first reaction to future social interactions is fear, both for the possibility of transmitting the virus and for our performance in communicating face to face. Anxiety concerning social interactions is a very present feeling in the current context, initially due to not knowing how to deal with mandatory social isolation, and now due to the uncertainty of how to rebuild social connections that have been so transformed by the use of digital resources to maintain links.
Overall, it is important to pay attention to this challenge and normalize the feelings that accompany it. The anxiety and restlessness of the mind that accompanies it is one of the most primitive survival mechanisms in the human being's baggage. This emotion, unanimously reported as “unpleasant” appears as an attempt to adapt and survive the physical and mental state to hostile or less familiar environments. The body and mind are alert to face any kind of threat or danger. Therefore, we can begin to understand anxiety as a transitory emotion that serves a purpose like any other emotion.
In conclusion, a big part of the social readaptation process may involve practicing self-compassion and respecting our rhythm. And, don't forget that each one of us now feels socially awkward to some degree, and the gradualness of this process will facilitate the social readaptation.
We cannot fail to mention that some people who experienced social difficulties before the pandemic context, whether due to the existence of a more marked trait of introversion, shyness, or the presence of a mental illness, such as Social Anxiety Disorder (or Social Phobia), may be dealing with the exacerbation of these difficulties, which can harm various areas of life and mental health in general. If this is the case for you, or if you have more difficulty connecting with others, don't hesitate to ask a mental health professional for help.