Feeling some stress around picking back up social gatherings after more than a year of distancing is totally normal. Here are some ways to help keep it in check.

We all have had to deal with a lot of unexpected things over the last year and change. Through all of the ups, downs and the downright strange (remember the toilet paper shortage?), we seem to be inching our way back to socializing again in the U.S.. The CDC has updated restrictions so that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors or indoors in more settings and making plans with friends and family is starting to feel safe again.

Though the rising number of vaccinations can spur hope for a more "normal" future, it can also bring up some anxiety. It has been a long time since many of us have, say, gone to a crowded bar or restaurant, or a packed stadium. Even hosting a dinner party might feel like a huge undertaking after a year of only cooking for your immediate household. If you are feeling stress around reentering into society and being around people more regularly, know that you are not alone. But there are some easy ways to help you cope with getting back into a post-pandemic world. 

Smiling and laughing friends sharing dinner at table in backyard
Credit: Getty Images / Thomas Barwick

1. Be Honest & Upfront

The best (and potentially quickest) way to feel more at ease is to share your comfortability level and boundaries with those close to you. Being clear and honest will help you not only get it off your chest, but also will help others give you support and vice versa. Having a dialogue about what you are and are not ready for can help you resume activities you miss while identifying things you want some time before diving back into. Everyone's situation is different, so it is important to be kind and open to other perspectives. 

2. Start Small 

If you haven't seen many people outside of your household in longer than you'd care to admit, there are probably several people feeling the same. If you are interested in being social again but don't know where to start, try hosting a dinner party with a group of people you know well and are comfortable with. You can set expectations ahead of time regarding any precautions (like mask wearing, being outdoors, food sharing, etc) if you feel it's necessary to keep everyone on the same page. By the time you get through our 20-minute appetizer recipes, it might just feel like no time has passed at all. 

3. Make a List

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all of the possibilities ahead, try making a list of things you are excited to get back to doing. Writing things down can help reframe uncertainty as excitement, and help you focus on what you're looking forward to instead of stress and anxiety. This might also be the time where you reflect on things you don't miss or things that you started during the last year that you want to continue. For many, spending more time with family and more time cooking were healthy habits built during the pandemic that people want to continue. This helps you prioritize what is important to you as the world might start to feel like it's spinning a little faster. 

4. Talk to Your Doctor

Things have not always felt clear or simple over the last year or so. Research and medical terminology can get complicated fast. When in doubt, reach out to your doctor as a trusted source to help talk through your questions and concerns. Knowledge can help you make informed decisions for your situation, and can help you feel more at ease about getting back to the things you miss in your own time. If you're still feeling anxious, ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist to help talk through what you're experiencing and give you more tools to cope.

Bottom Line 

It has been a long year, and it has taken a toll on mental health for many. Though loosening restrictions can bring feelings of hopefulness, it can also spark feelings of anxiety. What is small talk again, anyway? And how do I dress to leave the house? If you are feeling stressed, anxious or just don't know where to start, you are not alone. Taking steps like setting boundaries with those close to you and talking to your doctor can help quell concerns about reentering into the social world again.