Anxious About the Return to Normal

I’ve talked on this blog about how the pandemic has been difficult as an extrovert. Before, I would get a lot of my energy from seeing my friends and a busy calendar; social things fed my battery and supported my mental health. But now, after over a year of limited in-person interactions, I have social anxiety for the first time in my life.

I’m going to be heading back to Winnipeg for the first time in eight months and I am so, so, so excited to see family and friends. I visited at Christmas, but I limited my contacts because of the second wave, and I haven’t seen many friends in almost a year. I miss them all and I’m looking forward to seeing them now that we’re fully vaccinated. I’m also terrified.

My social circle in Ottawa is still pretty small, especially compared to my Winnipeg one, so I haven’t been around that many people. Since getting my second shot, we’ve started hanging out without masks and going to patios, which is so much fun, but wow, is it ever draining. Before, I would have four different social things a day, and now I’m exhausted after a few hours at a patio (the sangria probably had something to do with that — my social tolerance wasn’t the only thing that declined over the pandemic). 

The visit to Winnipeg scares me because I know it’ll be exhausting and overwhelming. My two weeks are already full. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so incredibly grateful to have this network of people who want to spend time with me. If I were the old me (and if it was safe), I’d throw a massive party and get to see everyone at once. As it is, I’m scheduling smaller meet-ups for one-on-one visits, which takes up more time but will likely be less overwhelming. The thought of being in a room with a bunch of people actually makes my chest clench.

This anxiety is fed by a fear of covid. I trust the vaccines. Everything I’m doing is probably safe and my chances of getting sick or getting someone else sick are pretty low. But we’ve spent the last year drilling into our heads to keep our distance, adapting our lives around the pandemic. It’s hard to slide back into old habits, to be a social butterfly again without this dominating sense of you’re doing something wrong and it’s not safe

I’ve talked to a few friends about this and it helps to know I’m not alone in feeling this way. We’ve all seen the reels and TikToks of people joking about being excited for the end of the pandemic only to realise they have social anxiety. It’s going to be a thing for a lot of people. The outgoing friend who was always ready to party may need to ease back into things, whereas others may be raring to go. Everyone will approach this differently, so let’s not make anyone feel bad about needing more time to adapt. Let’s try to be kind to each other and ourselves as we figure out this new dynamic. 

And in case anyone needs to hear it: It’s okay if you’re not the person you were two years ago. Going back to “normal” may look different from what it was before the pandemic. Take the time to figure out what works for you now.

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