The Nervous Person’s Guide to Re-Entering Society

“I have three kids who are not vaccinated,” she said. “It’s really hard because they can’t have friends over for play dates, right? They just can’t. It’s not OK. So here I am doing it — that’s sort of frustrating for them.”

Hosting a friend indoors is just one of “dozens of points of re-entry,” said Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist in Boston and the author of “How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety.”

You might start out by taking public transportation once a week, for example, or visiting the grocery store more often. Eventually, you might gradually work your way up to something like a wedding or a graduation.

This is assuming, of course, that you want to do these things.

If you don’t yet, that’s OK. But it’s best to address your worries if they are preventing you from living the way that you want to live, or keeping you from activities that give your life meaning and purpose.

Anxiety is maintained by avoidance and driven by uncertainty, Dr. Hendriksen said.

As long as things you want to do are considered safe or very low risk, don’t wait until the day when you have zero anxiety about doing them.

“Feeling anxious doesn’t mean you’re in danger, doesn’t mean something is wrong,” Dr. Hendriksen said. In fact, she added, it is a normal part of entering post-pandemic life.

It can be helpful to engage in calming, validating self-talk, suggested Lina Perl, a clinical psychologist in New York City. Speak to yourself in a safe, reassuring voice, much like an encouraging parent might do with their child on the first day of school.


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