After a very long and dark year, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And, while we all anticipating a return to normalcy thanks to the vaccine rollout, there are a lot of people who are anxious about returning to pre-pandemic life. In fact, an American Psychological Association survey found that 49% of adults feel uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions. Even 48% of those who have been vaccinated feel the same way.
Why is this occurring? One cause is social anxiety, such as having an intense fear of meeting new people.
“By being housebound during the pandemic, we’ve been acting like we have severe social anxiety,” Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, told Elemental. “It’s for a good reason, of course, but it mimics avoidance, which feeds and waters social anxiety.”
Another reason? There’s still a lot of uncertainty. And, that’s something that we do not like.
Right now, the medical world is still trying to figure out just how effective the vaccines are against the variants and how long they last. We also still don’t know what to expect when we goin out in public, such as guidelines on social distancing and mask-wearing. And, the CDC is still working on letting us know what we can and can not do after being fully vaccinated.
Taking these into consideration, it’s not surprising that people are experiencing a phenomenon known as FOGO -- the fear of going out. Thankfully, there are ways for you to overcome this fear, such as the five following techniques.
1. Take baby steps.
We’re excited to see friends and family. We can’t wait to patronize our favorite restaurants and shops. And, going on a vacation or attending a professional sporting event or festival like Firefly sounds amazing.
But, if you’re feeling uneasy, pace yourself. You don’t need to do all of these things at the moment. For example, accept that dinner invite from your friend since you’re all vaccinated. Next week, go back to your gym or sit down and savor your beverage of choice at your favorite coffee shop.
Most importantly, gauge your comfort level and don’t feel pressured. Start small, like spending time with your inner circle, and gradually expanding. Facing your fear in small doses can assist you in building up more tolerance.
2. Maintain a sense of control.
“The most recent research shows us that if we have a sense of control of the situation, we actually decrease our anxiety,” said clinical social worker Sandra Dougherty. “What (research) shows is that when we use mitigation strategies and we decrease high-risk behaviors, people have significantly lower anxieties.”
“The approach I take with my boys is let’s talk about what we do have control over: as a family, we choose to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and enjoy the company of others while honoring social distancing,” she says.
3. Make lifestyle changes.
While this may sound like a broken record, one of the most effective ways to manage FOGO, is making the following lifestyle changes;
Regular physical activity -- even 11-minutes per day can be sufficient.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Practicing breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques like mindfulness.
Avoiding alcohol, drugs, and too much caffeine.
These have been effective in helping people manage agoraphobia, so they should also be helpful with FOGO.
4. Get a little help from your friends.
Don’t hesitate in expressing how you feel to friends or family. You can even ask those who are positive and supportive to go out in public with you since their company can be a healthy distraction.
5. Work with a mental health professional.
Finally, if your fear of going out is interfering with your life or that agoraphobia symptoms or panic attacks are increasing please contact a mental health professional. The signs that you should be aware of include;
Chest pain or rapid heart rate.
Fear or a shaky feeling.
Hyperventilation or trouble breathing.
Lightheadedness or dizziness.
Sudden chills or flushing (red, hot face).
Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
After making your appointment, you can expect your therapist to use cognitive behavioral therapy to help you overcome your fears. CBT is a type of therapy that’s nothing more than talk therapy so that you understand how your thoughts impact your emotions and behaviors.