Ask a Therapist: How Can I Feel Less Nervous Socializing After Quarantine?

It'll take time to get used to a new normal

Ask a therapist, socializing after quarantine

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

A Reader Asks

I’ve spent the last year wishing I could get out of the house and see people. But now that we’re almost to the point where I can do that, the thought of being around people seems overwhelming. What’s wrong with me?

Amy Answers

You’ve gotten used to social distancing. And even though that was probably really tough to do sometimes, it’s all you’ve known for the past year. So it’s not surprising that doing something different feels uncomfortable right now. 

Things Are Still Weird

A lot of people are talking about how things are finally “getting back to normal.” But, life isn’t returning to the same way it was before. Socializing is going to be different than it was before. And we’re not quite sure how to handle some of the new situations that we’re encountering. 

Do you wear a mask when at your friend’s house? Do you ask people if they’ve been vaccinated? What do you say if you get invited to a large indoor social gathering? Or what if someone asks you to wear a mask when you don’t think it’s necessary?

Some of your anxiety might stem from knowing that things aren’t going to be exactly the same as they were before and there’s a sense of awkwardness about approaching the unknown.

You’re Out of Practice

Another reason being around people might feel overwhelming is because you haven’t socialized in a long time. Social skills are just like other skills—we need to practice them to keep them sharp.

It’s likely been a long time since you’ve held regular get-togethers with people. Your brain might try to convince you that you’ve forgotten how to socialize.

You also might be wondering what you’re going to talk to people about. If you’ve been social distancing for a year, it might seem like you have nothing to discuss.

Fortunately, you’ll likely find once you get out there and start talking to people again, you’ll discover reading body language and seeing facial expressions in real-life makes communication much smoother.

Go Slow

Although you might feel overwhelmed and anxious about getting back out there, socializing is good for your psychological well-being. Increase your social interactions one small step at a time and you’ll likely discover it gets a little easier with each step.

After all, you probably aren’t going straight from quarantine to a rock concert. Instead, you can start with meeting a friend outside for coffee. Or you might be able to start by going to a few stores to get used to being in public spaces again.

If there’s an event coming up—like a reunion this summer or a date when you need to return to the office—start increasing your social activity well in advance. You’ll most likely adjust faster than you’re imagining and gain your confidence back. After all, you probably adjusted to not socializing pretty quickly.

Remember, You’re Not Alone

You might think everyone else is excited to get back out there and socialize again. But, a lot of people share your concerns.

It’s been a long, difficult year for many people. And while the idea of getting together with people again might sound good on the surface, many other people are feeling nervous and overwhelmed as well.

So accept that you’re feeling like this and don’t judge yourself for it. Telling yourself, “I should be happy about this,” will only cause you to feel worse. A bit of ambivalence about reintegrating into the social world is normal. And there’s likely not anything wrong with you.

Get Help If You Need It

If you find that you’re really struggling to motivate yourself to socialize, however, talk to a therapist. Talk therapy might help you work through your feelings and regain the confidence you need to attend safe social gatherings.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.