I’ve always enjoyed socializing. A glass of wine? Count me in. A spin class with friends? I’m there. Birthday parties on Friday night. Shopping with friends on Saturday. A brunch date on Sunday. Pre-pandemic, my social calendar stayed full.
But with the restrictions of the COVID-19 lockdown came some truth: I enjoyed staying in, reading magazines, and catching up with the TV I missed while toasting it up.
Now that I’m fully vaccinated and the city is on the cusp of reopening, I’m worried and a bit anxious. I’m grateful the virus has subsided. But I don’t want to lose my me time. I don’t want to fall into old patterns. What if I’ve forgotten how to just relax and have a good time?
“This is the time to be real intentional,” said Ravi S. Kudesia, assistant professor of human resource management at the Fox School of Business at Temple University. “If you aren’t deliberate about the choices you make now, then the things you want to keep doing will fade away.”
The most important thing you can do to maintain your agency is ask yourself what you want, Kudesia says.
When you have your answer, here is some advice on what you can do.
Scenario 1: I’m not ready to socialize yet.
That’s absolutely fine, said Katara McCarty, an Indiana-based life coach and developer of EXHALE, a mindfulness app for women of color. There are many reasons why we may be reluctant to join the fray just yet: COVID-19 variants are real, or perhaps you haven’t finished that quilting or genealogy project.
There are also those reluctant to return to the social scene because they don’t feel comfortable in their social circles anymore. “Quarantine pulled us out of the worlds where we weren’t feeling like ourselves,” McCarty said. “Some of us changed. And some of us realized that our friends aren’t our tribe.”
This is the time to be real intentional.
Three things you can do:
Say no. You can still decline, McCarty said. Many of us have created new rhythms because the stress of fitting in was — poof — gone. “You don’t have to give up your habits because the world is opening back up,” McCarty said. “If you are not ready to go, go, go, then don’t. Your well-being is just not worth it.”
Doing nothing doesn’t mean you are not doing something. Grind and hustle culture isn’t the path that produces true success, McCarty said. True success is connecting with self, and that doesn’t end with the pandemic.
Don’t ignore your discomfort. “We’ve gotten out of the bad habit of pleasing everyone,” McCarty said. Listen to your gut. It will feel uncomfortable at first to turn down an invitation to coffee with someone just because they aren’t your cup of tea. But if you practice this habit, McCarty said, you might be ready to socialize sooner because you won’t feel like you are compromising yourself.
Scenario 2: I don’t want to be a hermit, but I don’t want my social life to get the best of me either.
This is where I fall in. I miss my friends, but I love my quiet time. This is the most common form of reentry anxiety, says Heidi Rose, professor and chair of the communication department at Villanova University. “Humans crave social interaction,” Rose said. “We have recognized the value and the limits of Zoom, and we genuinely miss each other. This is what makes us human.”
Three things you can do:
Don’t go from zero to 100. If you’ve been staying at home, social distancing and avoiding crowds, then a crowded bar, a big wedding, or a stadium event may trigger a response you didn’t anticipate. “You might get panicky,” Rose said. “But you might feel exhilarated.” Imagine yourself in these following scenes. What might you feel like at a crowded beach? Do you get the funny feeling? Pay close attention to how you feel when you do venture out. The moment you start to feel weird is the moment you should leave, Rose said.
Trust your friends. We are all dealing with the same anxieties. We’ve all changed, so it’s normal that our friendships have changed as well. “This sounds like a cliché,” Rose said. “But if they are your friends, they will get it and you will come up with new ways to maintain those real friendships,” Rose said.
It’s not about balance, it’s about harmony. It’s impossible to give everything in our lives equal weight. Something, McCarty said, will require more: an ill family member, a car that won’t start, another work obligation. Whatever is going on, we have to find time for the things that matter. Continuing to swim every day at noon or breaking bread on Saturday morning, these rituals bring harmony into our lives. “If we strive for harmony, not balance, we have a better chance of feeling whole,” McCarty said.
We have recognized the value and the limits of Zoom, and we genuinely miss each other. This is what makes us human.
Scenario 3: I’m ready to be social. I’m just not sure how.
Don’t worry. There are new cues, but you will get used to them, Kudesia said. We should think about getting used to the new rules as if we were visiting a new culture, Kudesia said. Now we have mask rules and social distancing. How we handle these are just folded into what we know. In the beginning, you will have to be aware of social cues. And you should also be aware of the personal boundaries in your social circle. For example, do your friends talk openly about the vaccine, or is it a forbidden topic of conversation? “It will take planning and consideration,” Kudesia said. “But we will be able to adapt.”
Three things you can do:
Plan. Before you resume hanging out with your friend group, make sure you know where everyone stands. Kudesia says. Ask the important questions: Are you all vaccinated? Do you feel comfortable maskless? If you run into additional friends at a bar or restaurant, will you all mask up? Does the group prefer to eat indoors or outdoors? “We can’t fall back on our old habits,” Kudesia said. “This preparation limits the uncertainty that gives rise to awkwardness.”
Acknowledge the awkwardness. Talk about it. The one thing we all have in common is our COVID-19 experience. “Not sure what to talk about beyond corona? Talk about corona,” Kudesia said. “Now’s the time to go meta.”
Ask. It will be tempting to go in for a hug when you run into the good friend you haven’t seen in a year. But please ask first. Ask how far apart people feel comfortable being. “Pay attention to the cues that other people might be giving and ask,” Rose said. For example, if you are at a wedding and people are starting to dance and you are hot, check before you remove your mask. And if you feel uncomfortable around too many maskless people, exit the dance floor.
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