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Key Takeaways:

  1. COVID-19 has changed the ways in which people socially engage with one another.
  2. A “return to normal” might seem desirable at first glance, but minimizing the ways that COVID-19 has impacted our world is unfair to both ourselves and to our community.
  3. Coping with new social and health anxieties can be a huge challenge, but there are some techniques you can try to manage it.

Has anyone felt weird at social gatherings over the last six months to a year? 

Picture this: It’s 2022 and you receive an invitation to a friend’s birthday party. The invitation has all of the traditional information — what to wear, when and where to attend, maybe even a suggested gift or donation. And then there is some new information: “Requesting that attendees test negative within 24 hours of the event”; “The party will be mostly outdoors, but bring a mask just in case”; “If you’re not feeling well, please stay home and rest.” 

You’re feeling healthy now, but who knows if you’ll have a COVID-19 exposure in the next few weeks that would stop you from being able to attend? How should you RSVP? Is there a “yes, I’d love to come, pending my health” option?

Assuming you remain COVID-19 negative and are able to go to the party, here’s what you need to pack in your bag: a birthday card for your friend, your contribution to the potluck, mini hand sanitizer, and a mask (or two, in case one gets wet). When you arrive, you see a group of 15-20 people in your friend’s front yard, some masking and some not. You think to yourself, are they wearing masks because they might have COVID or just because they are more comfortable with it on? 

You see some people that you know but haven’t kept in close contact with over the last few years because your social capacity has changed. You’d like to say hi but also feel guilty about not keeping in touch, what if they no longer want to be your friend? You see some new people that you don’t know, but you’re feeling more socially guarded than you used to and are feeling stressed and uncertain about how to introduce yourself. Finally, you see your friend whose birthday it is and make a beeline for them: relieved to recognize someone who you have kept in touch with through the pandemic.

It is important to note that this example is not representative of every community – some communities might be operating under lighter or stricter guidelines, or might be creating new guidelines as the state of COVID–19 changes. However your community is engaging socially these days, it is certainly different than it was a few years ago. And that difference can feel really weird.

While we might want to “return to normal” and revert back to how we lived our lives before COVID-19, it is important to acknowledge what might be challenging about simply switching back. We are different. Our communities are different. Our health needs are different. It is important to remember that different does not equal something inherently negative. There has been great loss due to COVID-19, but there have been great gains to celebrate as well.

The key is to find balance between acknowledging and honoring the different social environment that we are now existing in and listening to our changing social needs as individuals. Below are some questions to help yourself explore this balance:

  • Before the pandemic, what were social activities that you looked forward to the most? What were social activities that you dreaded? How do you feel about those activities now?
  • What are the great gains that you have experienced as a result of COVID-19? (What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about your community? If your values have changed, how have they changed and what does that mean to you?)
  • What are the health needs of your community (those you have close contact with)? What do you need to be aware of to keep them safe? How does this answer compare/contrast with your answer to the first set of questions?

Therapy can be a good space to explore these questions and learn new ways to cope with our changing world.

Rachel Levy, LLMSW

Author: Rachel Levy, LLMSW

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*This blog was created with the help of Anton Babushkin