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Breaking the Ice: Re-entering the Social World After a Pandemic

By: Jenna Cook, M.Ed., LPC, NCC

As the opportunity to reunite with friends, family, classmates, and colleagues draws nearer and becomes more of a reality, many of us face conflicting emotions. On one hand, we feel excited to catch up and socialize with those we know and love or with new folks. On the other hand, we feel a bit rusty, uncertain, and anxious about the idea of getting back out there or reconnecting. Here are a couple of ways to break the ice or combat some of the anxiety and insecurity that may naturally arise as we re-enter the social world.


Provide an Honest Disclaimer

When talking with friends or family members about plans to see each other, feel free to provide a disclaimer that shares with them how you’re currently feeling about the idea of getting together. Being up-front can get some of the discomfort out in the open and out of the way. People tend to really appreciate honesty and vulnerability in this way. You can do this in a joking, casual way by saying something like, “Sheesh, it’s been so long, I forgot how to be a person who hangs out with other people! You might have to remind me about how to have a real conversation!” You could also do it in a very sincere way, saying “I’m really feeling rusty and unsure of how to talk to people after so long. I’m hoping you’ll understand and be able to support me if I start to feel anxious or uncomfortable. I’m committed to getting back in the swing, but it feels hard right now.” Openness and transparency about what you are experiencing will not only feel good to get off your chest, but will help encourage others to be just as honest about what they are feeling.


Utilize an Activity or Game

Having a mutual thing for everyone to direct their attention to can be super helpful in a group setting. Instead of just looking at each other and being uncertain of what to talk about, a shared activity or game can really help. That way, even if there is a lull in the conversation, there is still something to look at, do, and talk about. Some of my personal favorite games and activities for groups are: yard games, Jackbox Party Pack, Codenames, Telestrations, and Table Topics. Deeper connection and conversations that go above or beyond the game can arise naturally, which is great. Or conversations can stay activity-oriented and that is still a super fun time.


Visualize Past and Future Successes

Make it a point to remind yourself of some of the most fun, funny, and memorable connections and interactions you had pre-pandemic. Take a moment to immerse yourself back in that memory, really focusing on how great it felt. Remind yourself of how taking social risks (while challenging and anxiety-inducing) can really pay off, bringing fun, connection, and confidence into your life. Imagine the positive future interactions you’ll have with your family and friends. We tend to think about what might go wrong, but challenge yourself to think about what might go right.


Give Yourself and Others Grace

We all now have the shared human experience of going through a global pandemic. You have been in the same boat as every other person out there. Therefore, others are likely feeling just as out-of-practice, uncertain, and anxious as you are. So speak kindly to yourself and give yourself some grace and understanding. Also, be empathetic to the potential unease and anxiety of others. Recognize that folks have been impacted by the pandemic in different ways and might be experiencing grief and loss, post-traumatic stress, financial distress, and health anxiety. Inquire about others’ comfort level about being in-person and how much physical proximity and contact they are or aren’t okay with. Be kind to yourself and others, as our bodies and brains have been incredibly hard at work trying to survive the emotional and physical vulnerabilities of the pandemic. Take time to relax and recover and settle into a new way of life, hopefully with newfound gratitude.



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