It’s great to get back to restaurants, church services, and visits with loved ones. But if it feels odd after a year spent wearing a mask, staying home, and missing in-person relationships, that’s totally normal. Luckily, our experts are here to help. Here’s how to adjust as you navigate this new version of the “real world.”
Navigate the new.
Reentry into the “real world” is causing so much worry, it’s been dubbed FONO (fear of returning to normal). The stress is actually about transitions, says healthcare educator and mental health advocate Lucy McBride, M.D. “After marinating in fear-based thinking for over a year, even a co-worker coughing can trigger anxiety.” Dr. McBride recommends naming, normalizing, and navigating. In other words, label what you’re feeling, remind yourself we’re all feeling stress, and create your “coping kit.” That may mean asking your friend how many folks are coming to her barbecue. “Managing worry is about knowing the facts and connecting with people who feel the same way you do.”
Reflect on growth.
What have you learned about yourself over the past year? You may have discovered that you’re better at weathering challenges than you thought. “Post-traumatic growth stems from learning from hardships,” says Dr. McBride. That doesn’t mean putting a falsely sunny spin on difficulties. “Rather, it’s realizing that you have choices about what you want to bring into the post-pandemic world.”
Keep up self-care.
There are two main ingredients to resilience: self-care and a positive attitude, says clinical psychologist, coach, and therapist Margaret Wehrenberg, Psy.D. The author of Pandemic Anxiety: Fear, Stress, and Loss in Traumatic Times urges us to “Jot down all the things you’ve been doing that you want to continue.” “Then write a second list of what you want to get back to. For example, I’m looking forward to my regular card game.” Seeing the two lists lets you congratulate yourself for making it through a hard time and anticipate the happy ahead.
When we meet with folks we haven’t seen in a while, we often “compare” hardships in a kind of subconscious one-upmanship, notes Debra Fine, author of the bestselling book The Fine Art of Small Talk (Buy from Amazon, $13). A keynote speaker and trainer to hundreds of audiences around the world, Fine says the better way to reconnect with folks is to ask about what helped them get through it. “You already know your story, so just let yourself listen to theirs.”
Let the details go.
If you’re outgoing, part of your charm stems from your memory for detail. “Extroverts recall everything about someone,” says Fine. But as people’s circumstances may have changed, it’s better to avoid specifics. Instead, just say, “Catch me up with what’s new with you.” This lets you delve deeper into one topic, bringing you closer.
Smile — a lot!
Constantly seeing our faces during Zoom and FaceTime chats makes us feel self-conscious, an effect that’s following us into real-world conversations, reveals Fine, who says curbing self-consciousness is deceptively simple: “Find your smile again — slowing down to meet someone eye-to-eye gives you back that ritualized moment we lost last year and lets you celebrate being in the world again.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.