After a year of being mostly cooped up indoors and without the usual outlets, it comes as no shock that so many of us are now beginning to experience anxiety about re-entering society. All of a sudden we have to retrain ourselves in the art of conversation with people other than our close friends, family, cohabitants, and colleagues. And very soon it’ll be impossible to use social distancing as an excuse for absence from social gatherings since any adult can now get vaccinated within the current phase.
Whether you previously identified as an introvert, ambivert, or extrovert, mandatory lockdowns have undoubtedly changed the way you interact with people. One might think isolation would have been much easier for certain segments of the more reclusive population to handle, but even for hikikomori, the lockdowns sparked further retreat into a self-created reality and regression for those who had until then been displaying signs of improvement after receiving therapy. As evidenced by a recent study by the American Psychological Association, more than a few of us need a little help to leave the safety of our pandemic nests. Forty-nine percent of Americans reported uneasiness about future social interactions, with those who had received a COVID-19 vaccine just as likely to express worry as those who had not. After the virus ravaged the global population, it’s normal to feel scared about venturing out again.
49% of Americans reported uneasiness about future social interactions, with those who had received a vaccine just as likely to express worry as those who had not.
To get some idea of how others are coping, as well as advice for managing post-pandemic anxiety, I enlisted the expertise of Dr. Chioma Anah, founder, CEO, & executive clinical director at PerceptA Therapeutic & Training Center, LLC. She says clients who display post-pandemic social anxiety usually feel distressed when they think about being in crowds again, an inability to communicate with people, and discomfort with physical changes that have occurred in the last year. We were shoved into the pandemic and forced to adapt with zero preparation, and now we are being ushered back out with just as little time to adjust.
It will take some time to adjust to being in close proximity with others, even after vaccination. The same goes for socializing and regaining body confidence. It might feel like you have to learn how to banter all over again, but perhaps you’ll come away from that process with better social habits. Whenever you start to worry about possible reactions to any changes in your appearance, e.g., weight gain, try to focus on the fact that your body carried you through difficult times, and that acceptance is part of the journey towards any healthy changes. To combat anxiety about these issues and any others, Dr. Anah recommends practicing mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques. And if therapy is inaccessible, turn to mental health technology. “Apps such as Shine and My Life are good to use,” she says.
As an art therapist, Dr. Anah also utilizes creative techniques, as she has achieved success with art as a vehicle for easing social anxiety. One of such techniques is a marriage of breathing, relaxation, and watercolors. “You start with paper and watercolors,” she says. “You close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing and body. As you breathe in and out, imagine your breath as colors. As you breathe in imagine a set of colors, and another set of colors as you breathe out.” The activity is one that engages not only the mind but the body as well. “On your piece of paper draw an outline of a body. Inside the outline, with the watercolors, paint using the colors you visualize for breathing inside, and paint with the colors for exit outside the outline of the body. There’s really no wrong way of doing art— everyone can do it. The goal is to relax and pay attention to your breathing and colors.”
Dr. Anah advises anyone who is unable to navigate post-pandemic anxiety alone to seek the assistance of a therapist to help you process your anxiety in a “safe and effective way.” If you’d like to try art therapy, feel free to reach out to Dr. Anah through her website or Facebook page.