The day before the virus took over our lives I’d travelled into London on the tube for a radio interview, then on my way back I headed to the gym for a beyond-sweaty boxing session, and that evening I went out for dinner to a bustling local Italian restaurant. It was a hectic and noisy day, filled with chatter, laughter and the sense that anything was possible.
It’s hard to imagine that I ever felt that carefree in a social situation. Or that we ever squished so many people into such a small space, without having a meltdown.
For the past ten weeks our worlds have shrunk to the size of our four walls. A few meagre square metres.
If we’re lucky we’ve not been completely isolated, perhaps sheltering from the virus with a handful of people we care about. But, our social circles have contracted, dramatically.
It’s strange how suddenly the most mundane task now feels like a big event. Popping to the local store to pick up provisions feels like an epic mission. Seeing a friend in the park has become a social highlight!
We’ve missed our freedom, our family and our friends. We’ve longed to get back to normal. To be able to see who we want. To go where we want. To touch who we want. To buy what we want. To do what we want.
I know, I have.
But, what happens next, now that the lockdown is being eased?
I’ve not been around more than two for the past couple of months. And then we decided to have a picnic with my sister by the river. Along with about 3768 other people, all crammed into the meadow.
Despite the fact that we were social distancing, it freaked me out!
I felt like a mole who had emerged from their hole, blinking in the bright sunshine. And I didn’t like it!
Lockdown has been challenging in many ways. But, there’s no denying it’s been quiet. And for us shy people, the thought of being surrounded by people once more, has its challenges.
If you’re worried about how to adapt to life back out in the wild, then read on for some handy tips.
Do you feel like your world has shrunk?
When was the last time you did something new? It’s really easy to let fear and lack of confidence keep you small and stuck in a rut. Spending a lot of time in the same place, with the same people, doing the same stuff, can make it harder for us to venture out. Our comfort zone can shrink to the size of a hula hoop – the crisp, not the sporting kind. So, even when we are restricted in the things we can do, challenge yourself to do something new each week. What could you try? A new sport? Or activity? Walk an untrodden path? Learn a new craft? Trying new things, facing a little bit of fear, keeps you pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It helps you to expand your life. You can come back to the sofa afterwards; you just don’t want to get stuck there forever!
Are you dreading going back to work?
When you think about work, do you notice yourself slumping, or looking at the floor. Perhaps you’ve started fiddling with your clothes or jewellery. Instead of shrinking down, adopt more of a powerful pose. Stand tall, with your feet apart and your shoulders back, and notice how much more confident you feel.
Have you been furloughed or worried about the future of your job?
Take back control of the situation and your future, rather than waiting for change to be forced upon you. Use this limbo time to plan your next step. Build a vision board for the next 3 years of your life. How would you like things to look and feel? Where will you be? What will you be doing? Who will you be with? Nothing is off limits, so get creative. If you need some help, look to work with a coach who will help you make a transition or start something new.
Does your lockdown haircut and lack of grooming appointments have you all kinds of worried and insecure?
Try leaving the house and going for a walk, somewhere you’re bound to see other people. Notice how they look and interact with each other without outwardly feeling self-conscious. Also, think about the different parts of your body and rather than focusing on the way they look, think about the things they can do. For example, your hands may be a bit knarly, but maybe you’ve been growing vegetables the past few weeks. Or maybe your legs need a wax, but you’ve recently run a 5K.
If you feel anxious about meeting new people, or being around people you don’t know because you’re worried they’re judging you, remember that people are busy doing their thing, and they’re probably worrying about their own stuff instead. Instead of wasting energy on this stuff, focus instead on what you’re doing and breathe!
Are you anxious about small talk?
Having been locked up at home for weeks, we are used to giving people a wide berth and it’s easy to feel a sense of fear and mistrust when we see someone new. Get back into the habit of smiling and making eye contact, rather than leaping into the nearest hedge when someone approaches. Walk your dog or your child where you know you’ll find other people, such as in the park (whilst maintaining social distancing). Give yourself an exercise each day to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know – even from a few meters away.
Do you find Zoom meetings exhausting?
You’re not alone. Video calls can be harder to navigate in many ways than face to face interactions, because we are so focused on seeing our own face. When you talk to someone normally, you look at them, not at yourself! It can also feel rather overwhelming when everyone is talking at the same time. Instead of solely relying on Zoom, get back into the habit of speaking to people you care about on the phone. Voice only calls are in many ways more personal and intimate, and we are less likely to get distracted or feel self-conscious about the way we look.
Are you worried about socialising in a bigger group?
Spending so much time alone or with a very small group of people, will make it harder for many of us to socialise and be around new people. Don’t wait until we are plunged back into normality before stretching your social muscles. To keep things fresh, try to meet up with one new person at a time for a socially distant walk. Ask on social media if anyone would like to join your book club. Or join you for a virtual film club. Or a “Friends” fancy dress bingeathon. Have a virtual hook up every couple of weeks with a drink and a chat and get back into the groove of meeting new people.
Are you getting lost in your own anxieties?
Offer to volunteer your services, calling elderly and vulnerable people who live alone for a quick chat. Our worst worries, fear, paralysis, behaviours and mindsets occur when we are focused inward—on ourselves. When we are focused on helping others, there is less room for our own worries and anxieties to take over.
Set up a chair at your front door with a cuppa or a glass of wine and chat to people walking past. Connecting with people, from the safety of your garden or balcony, or even an open window is a good first step to re-socialising, plus you may even make friends with new people in your neighbourhood. Although it may feel strange at first, don’t focus on your own feelings of awkwardness. Instead, focus on the fact that your friendliness could brighten up someone else’s day.
Writing a diary is for little kids, right? Wrong. Writing down how you feel about things isn’t weird or babyish. It’s a great way to vent, process and make sense of your feelings. Try spending a few minutes each day just letting the words flow from you on to a page. Write about your day, things that happened, your worries and feelings. Because, it’s better out than in!
Are you beating yourself up?
Instead of giving yourself a hard time and pointing out all your flaws, failings and all the things you find tricky. What if you were actually nice to yourself? If you’re being awful to yourself, and putting yourself down and beating yourself up for the things you struggle with, how can you expect anyone else to be nice to you, or to want to hang out with you? Try celebrating something good about yourself each day. Something you’ve achieved, or something you like about yourself.
If you’re feeling alone or worried about your next steps, know that I am here for you and that feeling shy or anxious about coming out of lockdown is completely understandable. If you’re struggling with re-socialisation, or with planning your future, why not come and join the Shy and Mighty Society, so I can help you move forwards.