As more areas in the US ease into the summer months with lowered Covid-19 Restrictions, it’s no surprise that a lot of people are experiencing mixed emotions about social “Re-Entry.” Today, we’ll have a look at what clinical research has to say about the impacts of extended social distancing, and how best to go about returning to socializing.
Social distancing measures, in addition to stay at home orders and the economic insecurity that many people experienced during the pandemic all contributed to a rise in mental health issues.
According to a focus group study done by WIlliams et al. in 2020 shortly after the first stay at home orders were instituted, these factors in addition to people’s routines changing rapidly “led to psychological and emotional impact, as demotivation, loss of meaning and decreased self-worth.” Additionally, Melo and Soares published a review in May of 2020 which suggests that we can anticipate seeing higher anxiety, depression, fear of circumstance, and feelings of loneliness as a result of the extended social isolation some have dealt with.
What can be done?
In order to alleviate the mental health concerns identified above, it may be helpful to exercise a little extra caution as you take up some old social habits again.
It is recommended that you first establish what your needs are before socializing again, especially if you have been living alone or have had greater restrictions in your area. Everyone has different levels of comfort with in-person activities right now, and you should determine what you feel comfortable with before dipping your toe back into the social pool. For instance, do you only feel safe meeting people in your immediate circle? Only small groups? Only outdoor activities? Whatever you’re comfortable with, set those boundaries with the people around you.
Easing yourself back into socializing by starting with the people you feel most comfortable with is recommended by neuropsychologist, Dr. Debra O'Shea. “Find your group, your people who you're comfortable with, and start socializing with them and then branch out," O'Shea says. "You don't have to see everybody right now."
Finally, accept that it is normal to be experiencing increased stress and anxiety right now, either as a result of the extended isolation or out of the fear of returning to the social world. It is also completely acceptable, and indeed very important, to remember to say ‘No’ when social re-entry becomes overwhelming. It’s okay to take days out, decline group activities if you don’t feel comfortable, and to go at your own pace and take as much time as you need to re-acclimate to the social activities that you enjoy.
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