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Living in lockdown over the past 18 months has been unprecedented, and for many the pandemic has been a surreal, confusing and anxiety-provoking time. Within this, our ability to socialise and meet loved ones, friends and colleagues in person has often been uncertain and limited.

Socialising can be an important part of the human experience and a lack of it may have affected your sense of wellbeing and mental health. Whilst Zoom parties and video call catch ups have now become common place in both personal and professional domains (which has brought new opportunities and sometimes effective, adaptive ways of working including more online counselling), there are differences in this form of communication versus meeting in person.

Currently we’re in a new moment as we transition out of lockdown and this may change how you are functioning in the world and interacting with others. This may bring wonderful, energising connections and a renewed variety of shared experiences (I, for one, am looking forward to getting back to live entertainment!), but it may bring up many other responses within you. Alongside joy, happiness and relief, you may also feel fear, a lack of confidence in your social skills or overwhelm. Being with others in person may feel both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time which can also be disorientating.

So, with that in mind, here are 5 ways you can support yourself within your social plans after living the lockdown life.

1. Go at your own pace

When it comes to socialising, you may be feeling eager to make up for lost time and want to make the most of every available experience, however, when you're actually in that music festival it may feel different. Whilst you may feel very comfortable at some points, at other times you may find that unexpected, more challenging feelings come up for you in the moment such as feeling on edge or overwhelmed.

Alternatively, even the thought of leaving your house beyond your weekly shop at the supermarket may feel too much to consider right now or perhaps, even though you want to see you friends, home feels like the safest place to be.

Sometimes having contrasting feelings can be confusing but these are all valid. It may also be worth considering that perhaps this isn't a race! Emerging back into the world based on your own viewpoint and feelings may be more helpful than competing or comparing yourself with others.

Being aware of any feelings you have before, during and after a social occasion, and being true to these can be helpful. Consider what you need in each moment. For example, if you’ve not seen many people over lockdown, going straight into your friend’s wedding with over hundred people may be exciting but also daunting so easing yourself in gently may help you to build up your confidence again. Maybe consider seeing a friend first one to one, then perhaps a small group of people you know and build from there. There is no right or wrong approach here - it’s just about honouring what you’re able to do day to day.

2. Build up your stamina over time

Similarly to going at your own pace, it may be useful to consider building up your 'social stamina' over time. Whilst chatting on Zoom for long periods can have an impact, socialising with people in person may take more out of you than you expect and you may get tired more easily. You may also be suddenly doing this in multiple areas of your life at once - through small talk in the office, seeing family or going on dates.

Managing your diary and being mindful not to pack in something every night of the week and every weekend may help you to ensure you avoid burning out or exhausting yourself. Over time, you may build your capacity to be with others for longer periods and to the level you were used to pre-pandemic. Ultimately, the point here is that life has been different for the past 18 months and to go from A to B in one swoop may not serve you best. Again, do whatever feels appropriate and supportive for you!

3. Keep self-care in the mix

The concept of self care has been increasingly highlighted over the past few years. So, what is it? Well, ultimately it is showing care for yourself. This is about doing whatever makes you feel nourished, listening to you body and recharging in whatever way you can. Perhaps you could do this through having a night to yourself, listening to your favourite songs, having a Netflix binge, going for walks in nature, meditating, even seeing friends and family can be a form a self care. What I’m talking about here specifically though is having ‘down time’.

Within the pandemic you may have gotten used to time by yourself or you may have discovered new ways of unwinding. Keeping this up alongside your new socialising plans means you are continuing to support yourself emotionally and will avoid burning out. All the energy that socialising takes will have an impact - so if you feel you need some early nights after having some party nights out, or if you need a bath to relax after going into the office for the first time, this may be a helpful support to you. And if this is the first you've heard of self care or you find it very hard to relax, perhaps just do whatever you can - experiment with it and play with it. I wonder what it would be like for you to give yourself permission to take this time to look after you?

4. Discuss your boundaries with others

In this new world there are aspects of socialising that are different to what we knew pre-pandemic, and you and others may have similar or different preferences around this when meeting up. Here’s some points to consider around your socialising:

  • Mask wearing is no longer mandatory but what feels right for you within this and what would you expect from others who you meet in different settings (e.g. at home or in the car)?
  • Are you comfortable meeting in a public space, having someone to your own home or going to their home?
  • Are you comfortable meeting inside or outside?
  • Are you comfortable with physical contact - for example, hugging?
  • What expectations do you have in terms of precautions when you see someone else? Do you want to use hand sanitiser? Would you prefer other people use it?
  • Would it make you feel more comfortable to do a lateral flow test before meeting larger groups and would you like to agree with others you meet to do this as well?

This is ultimately about identifying what your needs are and what needs to be in place for you to feel safe. Explicitly discussing and negotiating this with those that you’re meeting can be helpful. This could be in a conversation prior to meeting them, or moment to moment. This means that you are respecting others' boundaries, that they know what yours are, and that there is a dialogue about explicit consent rather than making assumptions. For example, as you say goodbye to your friend (who you always usually hugged pre-pandemic), asking ‘are we hugging?’ before going into hug can make all the difference in how comfortable you may both feel in that moment.

Be mindful as well that you can also say no to others if you’re uncomfortable with what they want you to do. This can be easier said than done, but if you do feel able to share how you are feeling with those close to you, they may be able to support your transition back into the world and know not to push you to go where you’re not yet ready. Having conversations like this may feel OK or perhaps daunting for you. It’s something to experiment with and the more you practice it, the more comfortable it may become.

5. Be kind to yourself and others

Within all of these points, whenever you are communicating with others, it may be useful to remind yourself to be kind to yourself and others. I’m talking here about your self talk - perhaps that critical inner voice is saying ‘I need to just get on with it’ even though you’re feeling overwhelmed. Or perhaps you’re finding that because this all feels very stressful, you are getting irritated with others more easily within your life. These are all valid feelings and you have every right to experience them. Gently challenging yourself when that inner voice tells you ‘I should have…’ or ‘I could have…’ and instead trying to accept where you are right here, right now may feel very difficult but may also give some relief.

Being mindful of the expectations you place on yourself can also be helpful - things may feel awkward initially in your socialising - after all real life is different to the virtual world. You don’t need to launch yourself back into the world in a ‘perfect way’ - however you need to move forwards will be perfect to you. Perhaps if we can all work on being patient with ourselves and each other, appreciating each others viewpoints as we emerge back into the world we will all feel more supported and heard. This may help us to find ways forwards together.

I hope these tips here are useful for you and I wish you the very best with your venturing out into this new world we find ourselves in.

If you are finding that you’re struggling and would like support, counselling can help with this. In fact, I see this as an act of ultimate self care. You don’t need to suffer in silence, do reach out if you need someone walking alongside you as you step back out your door.


Photos from Header by Jan Tinneberg, Walking on Sand by Brian Mann, Hour Glass by Aron Visuals, Self Care by Ellieelien, Boundaries by Sikes Photos, Group of Friends by Helena Lopes.

All emojis comment reactions designed by OpenMoji – the open-source emoji and icon project. License: CC BY-SA 4.0.

Hamilton Sargent is a BACP accredited person-centred pluralistic counsellor, having graduated from a 4 year degree level training programme. He also completed a specialist certificate in online and telephone counselling.

Hamilton offers face to face therapy in Clapham SW4, Chiswick W4, and online and telephone counselling for adults in the UK within his private practice. Alongside this he is an Academic Lecturer on the BSc (Hons) Person-Centered Pluralistic Counselling (Advanced Practitioner) programme at Metanoia Institute and is a published author.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that information and guidance around counselling may develop and change over time and may only be correct at the time of publication. I also cannot take responsibility for any independent resources mentioned and encourage you to do your own research if using any of these services.