I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person who gasped when they saw the near capacity crowds at Wimbledon — the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world — back at the start of July. Although it was safe for them to do so because of the momentum of their vaccination program, it was almost unimaginable that people could be sitting maskless next to each other, drinking champagne and casually watching Novak Djokovic win the tournament. It reminded me that the world is slooooowly starting to open back up again, and I couldn’t help but think that we all have to start opening up our hearts to saying “yes” again when it comes to doing social activities out in a public setting.
Awareness of Social Anxiety
At the same time, the thought of actually getting out there may give many of us a jolt of social anxiety. Even just thinking about being in a crowded public setting may be overwhelming. If you think that this might be a problem for you, the key is to try and start small. Chat to your friends about getting together in small groups (perhaps in an outside setting), set rules for social interactions (are we hugging, shaking hands, elbow tapping when we see each other?) and try to get a sense of what everyone involved is comfortable with. If you feel that the anxiety is getting too much, remember that it’s never a bad idea to reach out to a professional to help you navigate to the other side.
Finding What’s Comfortable For You
Opening your heart to group activities in a post-pandemic world is going to require some bravery and a confidence in expressing what your comfortable range of physical contact is. Are you happy being inside a club, or is it easier to get together at an outside table at the local pub? If it makes it easier for you to manage the process by sitting in an area with a lot of fresh air, tell your friends and family that this is a boundary that’s important to you. Ask them about their suggestions from their own experiences, rather than defaulting to the idea that your way is the best way to do things. None of us have been in this position before, so we’re all in the same boat. Striking the correct balance between what you’re comfortable with, and what the people you’re going to be interacting with prefer, is essential to approaching social activities in a positive and respectful way.
Continuing to Respect Personal Space
Vaccinated or not, we all need to remember that we’re collective inhabitants of the planet alongside each other. Continuing to respect the personal space of other people in spite of your vaccination status is vital to helping you reintegrate back into broader public life. Recently, a yoga client asked me why I was still wearing a mask during the class where everyone taking part preferred not to wear theirs. I explained that as an instructor I interact with many people over a given week, and I wanted to make double sure that nobody would pick anything up from me in the worst-case scenario. Socially, it may have seemed like I was “going against the group”, but by stating my reasons it reassured everyone that it was a decision for the broader collective, rather than just myself.
The Power of Open Communication
Full transparency like this is always the best way to go, and will help other people to get a sense of your boundaries, and the way you would like to navigate the post-pandemic world. It’s going to be a while until everything is “back to normal” (so to speak), but getting there means we all have to find a new range in terms of social interaction, which is integral to mental health preservation. Remember that this will go down as one of the hardest periods in world history, and you’ve almost made it through. Just by thinking about getting back out there, you’re already showing bravery and a willingness to connect with your peers again. After 18 months of relative isolation, who can blame you?