How to Ease Back Into Social Contact

You will be able to socialize soon, but do you want to?

By Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D.

Posted Mar 28, 2021 |  Reviewed by Kaja Perina

KEY POINTS

  • You may have become comfortable with not socializing during the pandemic.
  • Workplaces are asking employees to return to the office in the next few months.
  • Socializing in-person can be difficult if you haven’t had to do it in a year.
  • Pace yourself, and socialize if you are ready and feel comfortable.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a topic that has not been mentioned much is the number of people who have felt more comfortable not having to socialize in-person.  For many, the pandemic was a time of relief — they could work from home, and social contact was minimal. 

You may have read stories of people longing for social contact during quarantine and thought to yourself, I am definitely not one of those people.

However, vaccines are more prevalent, and some workplaces request that employees return to the office by mid-summer.  The bubble of contentment many felt by being able to work from home is about to burst.  

What can you do when you have to do in-person socializing again but are really dreading it?  

Talk About the Awkwardness

You may be working on-site with coworkers that you have only seen on a screen up to this point.  Discuss it on video before seeing each other in person.  Preface the conversation with, “This is awkward, but…” It’s important to talk about personal space if the two of you will be sharing close quarters at work.  All workspaces would still be maintaining social distancing in a perfect world. However, many may ignore those guidelines. 

Go At Your Own Pace

You don’t have to socialize.  Do it when you want to, and on your own terms.  If you are socializing, you may want to consider only attending gatherings where social distancing is observed.   Not only is it safer, but it limits the number of events you attend.  Telling the host that you can’t attend due to a lack of safety protocols is a perfectly acceptable reason not to attend a social gathering.  A simple “no thank you” also works well when declining social events.  

Visualize Having Positive Social Interactions

For some, visualizing a successful social connection may seem like a far-fetched option that might not help.  However, visualization can be a powerful tool to help you feel more comfortable in social situations.  Create as vivid of a scenario as you can in your mind.  Picture yourself talking to someone with ease and focusing on what they are saying, rather than critiquing yourself.  Imagine yourself being calm in a social situation, and walking away at the end of that interaction with a feeling of confidence.  

Talk to Your Employer About a “Hybrid” Work Model

Some employers are moving towards a permanent “hybrid” work model where you work both remotely and at the office during the week.  Some employers are allowing employees to work permanently from home and only show up in person for project meetings.  Ford Motor Co. just extended this option to 30,000 employees.  Talk to your employer about gradually moving towards working at the office or working permanently at home.  Point out any productivity increases that may have occurred while you were working remotely.  You may be saying to yourself, I already don’t want more social contact — I’m not going to talk to my boss! 

You’ll never know if you don’t ask.  

See a Mental Health Professional 

Moving from a year of quarantine to working at an office and socializing can be a big transition.  You may have anxiety regarding Covid-19 exposure when you go back to the office.  You may feel some trepidation about your kids being safe at school.  You may be losing sleep over the thought of having to work around people again.  All these feelings are normal.  Talking to a mental health professional, a neutral third party, about your concerns can help you put them into perspective and process them.

About the Author

Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D., N.C.C., D.C.M.H.S., L.M.H.C., is the author of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive Peopleand Break FreeOnline:WebsiteTwitterFacebookLinkedIn

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