Q: For otherwise healthy people, what’s safe to do these days? Should we be preparing to re-enter society? And if so, how do we address our serious fears about health safety?
A: Safe socialization is important for our well-being and thriving, so when you’re ready, use your SMARTS, assess the risks, name the feelings that arise, take it slow and recognize that just as it took some time for us to learn to safely physically distance, it’s going to take some time – emotionally, physically and interpersonally – to resocialize ourselves.
🤓 Use your SMARTS.
You know the drill. Space, Mask, Airflow, Restricted social bubble, Time-limited interactions…and now Shots! And yes, even if you’ve been vaccinated, to be safe, it’s good to stay SMART for a while longer. Give others space, wear a mask, take the fun outdoors whenever possible, avoid crowds and keep your interactions fairly short.
🤔 Assess the Risks.
Assessing risk is complex, and highly personal. Is the emotional, social or financial reward of taking a risk worth incurring some low level of viral exposure? What are the social and psychological consequences of not engaging in a certain activity? Are you over- or understating the viral risk out of generalized anxiety, concern that you’ll be judged by others or because it all just feels new?
🤗 Feel all the Feels.
Maybe you are anxious before you head to the grocery store for the first time and notice that your body feels tense. Maybe you are nervous about seeing a friend whom you haven’t seen face-to-face in a long time, and there’s a fear in the pit of your stomach that things won’t be the same. These are normal reactions after a year of being physically distanced. Consider a 4-step process:
➡️ NOTICE how those feelings feel in your bodies and how they manifest in your behavior.
➡️ NAME the feelings and separate each feeling specifically (anxiety and embarrassment go together, but they are often experienced as different physical and mental emotions).
➡️ HONOR those feelings of fear and anxiety – they are loyal soldiers trying to keep us safe – and acknowledge the difficult times that have led you to have these concerns.
➡️ ASK whether those defenses can be lowered a bit in a SMART, safe way.
🙃 Take it slow.
Economists are predicting a huge surge of hotel bookings and restaurant reservations as people decide it’s safe to get back into the social waters. Some psychological research suggests we all have a bit of enantiodromia in us – the ability to switch to the opposite behavior, or contradict our thoughts. So if you’re being very strict about your safety, be cautious about going to the opposite end of the spectrum. The pandemic isn’t going to flip off like a light switch, so it’s not time to dance on the tables and do tequila-shot conga lines quite yet.
🥰 Take comfort.
We’re all awkward now: Socializing can be exhausting, especially if you’re a bit out of practice. It’s understandable to feel awkward, tired, out of place or just unsure of yourself as you re-enter the social world. It’s like being an awkward teenager all over again. (Is everyone looking at me? Am I acting weird?) Don’t pack your first day “out” with back-to-back events. Give yourself some time to recharge.
Humans are social animals. With SMARTS and emotional awareness, your inner social butterfly can start flapping its wings when you are ready.
Dr. Whelan and Those Nerdy Girls
Psychological research suggests that we are likely to engage in enantiodromia, a Jungian concept that means the conversion of something to its opposite.