9 anxiety-inducing social interactions as the world reopens

The world is not quite safe yet, but vaccinated people whose condition has recovered somewhat find themselves in a strange and nerve-wracking environment.

People with OCD and cleansing rituals, trauma or anxiety disorders can have a particularly difficult recovery period.

What used to be familiar is not so familiar now, says Lynn Bufka, senior director of practice change and quality at the American Psychological Association. For nearly a year we have received messages forbidding us to be with others, to distance ourselves….. And then the idea: Oh, there are ways to be with others, and that’s good – that’s new information to reconcile. So it’s understandable that you feel differently, at least when you’re not causing anxiety or stress.

An alert can be used to signal situations for which we should be vigilant and careful, Bufka said. It’s about the experiences and places that matter when the world opens up again, and expert advice on how to deal with them.

Eye contact

If you haven’t had any social contact at home, the only people you’ve interacted with via screen lately are probably your roommates, cashiers, and coworkers.

In a future without masks, people might look down anxiously, says Jane Webber, associate professor of counselor education and coordinator of the doctoral program at Kean University in New Jersey. In general : Just eye contact and a little smile, which I call the Mona Lisa, fills the people on the other end with a very pleasant feeling. You will reflect what you do.

Eye contact is the easiest interaction to start with because it reacquaints us with communication and shows that we are paying attention, said Webber, who teaches trauma, stress and coping skills.

Being in the crowd

If you’ve seen a pre-Pandemic movie recently, chances are the audience scenes were a little weird. Although we are still far from the big crowds, you may soon find yourself in increasingly crowded places in supermarkets or on public transport.

As a psychologist, the circle of protective space is what Webber taught his students. We put a rope or ribbon on the ground and (ask) : How big does a circle have to be to feel safe in a crowd? Most people will say: I need space in front of me or on the sides.

Once you’ve determined how much space you need, strategically use your elbows or feet or an object – like a grocery bag or cart – to create that space. If you want others to respect your boundaries, tell them: I just need a little more space.

If you feel panicky, Webber suggests focusing on your breathing and saying to yourself: I’ll be out of there in a few minutes. Move slowly with the crowd and to the edge until you find a spot.

READ MORE: 12 stress relieving lifestyles

Shaking hands and hugging

In the early days of the pandemic, there was debate about whether people should shake hands. Most people don’t. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged breaking this age-old cultural norm – for good. When people meet more often, when you meet someone who reaches out to you, the germ factor can lead to an instinctive gift.

We are social people, Webber said. We reach out and pull back and tell people it’s a natural feeling.

If you feel anxious at that point and instead swing your elbows or bounce, that’s fine, Webber said. Let people know you’re still a little nervous, she added. When we have done that, we have made a connection and they will (start to) understand.

The idea of a hug can be even scarier. In this year of social exclusion, however, we have become victims of detachment, Webber said. But this is not the time to hug everyone you see. If you or a loved one needs the warmth of a loving touch, wrap your arms around the butterfly, pat it on the shoulder and send it to that person. If someone comes to you for a hug, gently express your concern and offer a butterfly hug instead.

Flirting or requesting a date

If you’re sitting down to coffee and someone asks you out, your brain is probably plundering your memory about how to respond to such an unfamiliar request.

You can take your time if you’re not ready, Bufka said. Suggest you start by exchanging phone numbers and then move on to virtual dating.

New intimate relationships

Going from flirting to a first date can seem like a lost art. In addition, the pandemic may have added some unusual questions to your list of knowledge: Has this man been vaccinated? What does she think of the Covid 19 vaccine and masks? How did it go during the pandemic? Is she asymptomatic?

In fact, these are exactly the questions you should ask to find out if your love interest shares your values and if you want the relationship to last, Bufka says. Based on your partner’s answers, you can tell if you are comfortable with the level of risk and what precautions you should or should not take.

Approach the conversation with gentleness, humility and without judgment, Bufka advises. Tell what behaviors you preferred during the pandemic and why, and ask yourself what your partner did. If you’re thinking about getting serious, you need to be able to have that conversation, Bufka said.

If physical intimacy makes you nervous, admit that’s normal. How? God, I haven’t kissed anyone in a year. I’ve kind of forgotten how to do that. You can also take it a little easier, Bufka says. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, be honest and say you don’t want to risk their health.

READ MORE: Loss of sense of control during a pandemic

Shared use of public space

You sit on the couch when someone else asks to sit next to you. Do you have to let them do that? If you don’t, what will the other person think of you?

You can practice for these situations by saying something like: Sorry, I’m still not vaccinated. I’d rather keep my distance, Bufka said. If you have been vaccinated, you may want to ask yourself what your concerns are and if they are still real in light of current medical guidelines.

Sharing to help others

If someone asks you to start their car, you might want to help them. But should you do it, and who will do it if you don’t?

Make a difference to make it more comfortable, said Jacqueline Gollan, who holds two professorships at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago: one in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, the other in obstetrics and gynecology.

Take small steps to manage your fears, socialize and reduce real risks, Gollan said in an email. You can keep disinfectant and masks on hand for such situations. If you can’t reduce your fears, try to change your negative attitude by taking your fears to court. Assess the evidence that suggests this (if you have a high chance of getting sick during vaccination).

Cosmetic and wellness services

Imagine this: The pandemic is finally over and you would love to relax with a massage. But there is one problem: Cosmetic and spa services can’t be that relaxing, even on the mountain where pandemonium continues.

You can ask the contractor what precautions he has taken – and go elsewhere if he does not meet your requirements.

READ MORE: A year after the pandemic, it’s time to take stock of our mental health.

Back in service

Those of us who still work from home have been able to assert ourselves in terms of how and where we work. We didn’t have to worry about human collisions and the risk of Covid-19.

When you return to the office, it can be scary to lose control of your health and routine, says Ravi S. Gajendran, chair of the Department of Leadership and Global Management at Florida International University and associate professor in the College of Business. You can no longer make a habit of ironing your clothes, having people look under your shoulders, and communicating in person.

What you can do is accept that the transition is scary, disruptive and slow, Gajendran said. Be prepared for what is in your control, such as bringing hand sanitizer and wearing a mask.

Be aware that working in the office will likely be different than before the pandemic, as some companies have implemented a seating system or app to detect Covid 19 symptoms. If there are no clear safety guidelines in your workplace, you should raise your concerns with your supervisor, says Kristen Shockley, associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. An organization that sets standards creates a common and shared understanding, she added. And people who might be more cautious don’t feel embarrassed to talk about it.

Anyway, take a break, Gajendran said. Those of us who survived most of the pandemic may feel strange and anxious about re-entering society, but we are in it together and can help each other (safely).

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