Some of us, confronted with the pandemic's eventual end, started planning the Roaring Twenties 2.0. But others, rather than fantasizing about endless parties, were hit with a wave of anxiety. Everyone is happy to see the back of this terrible year, of course, but some also feel socially rusty and oddly panicked about any crowd larger than can fit in our kitchens.
As this New Yorker cartoon illustrates, those who are responding to the reopening of society with unease are far from alone. According to science, there are good reasons some of us feel like cave creatures emerging blinking and grotesque into the light right about now. There is also plenty you can do to feel better.
Why you're feeling so antisocial and awkward right now
A recent article from Greater Good's Science Center delves into the psychology of the antisocial feelings the pandemic has generated in some. Loneliness, writer Kira M. Newman points out, should make us reach out to others, but "actually makes us withdraw, according to research. We start to feel unworthy of our relationships, worried that people are judging us or don't enjoy being around us."
Similarly, depression saps our energy, making us less likely to do the sort of things -- like exercise and socialize -- that might make us less depressed. Plus, after a year of sitting on our couches, many of us just have nothing left to talk about (except Covid, which we're heartily sick of). In other instances, being trapped inside with our families for a year has us craving alone time more than other humans.
Last but not least, there is the problem of toxic positivity, or the soul-crushing pressure to fake optimism you don't feel. "It's exhausting to constantly act cheerful and hopeful when you don't feel that way. But if all we have to share are complaints, pessimism, and sadness, we may worry about being a burden to others," notes Newman.
How to ease your re-entry shock
For all these reasons, it's entirely natural that despite feeling lonely and disconnected, you also feel a ton of anxiety when actually presented with the chance of seeing real, live people. How can you ease your way back into sociability?
Visualize what it will feel like to be out in the world and in bustling social situations before you actually enter them to give your mind and body a chance to prepare.
Start small. If you've been very isolated, a trip to the corner store is a fine place to start. Build your exposure to the outside world step by step.
Find a wingman (or woman). This is always a good way to take the edge off social anxiety, and now you may need the support of a trusted friend more than ever.
Get outside. Nature is a phenomenal anxiety killer, and it offers the added benefit of being a relatively uncrowded way to reacquaint yourself with being out and about.
Try a little vulnerability. When someone asks "How are you?" you don't have to give them a guided tour of your every emotional dark corner, but be a little honest. You might find you're less alone in your struggles than you think.
Focus on others. If your attention is on what the other person is saying and how you can help put him or her at ease, it won't be on your every potential misstep.
Lower your standards. Really, no one expects anything near perfection right now (in fact, that's an insane standard at any time).
Get help if you need it. The pandemic's impact varies hugely person to person. If you're really struggling, don't compare or berate yourself; reach out for professional support.
Most importantly, perhaps, is this perpetual piece of good advice: Be kind to yourself. Feeling this strung out and antisocial is entirely understandable given what we've all been through. If it takes you a beat to get back into the swing of things, that's entirely OK.