The day finally arrived: two weeks after vaccination! I envisioned fireworks, chocolate fountains, a giant party . . . instead I celebrated my end of isolation with a quiet walk through Hobby Lobby.
With so much of the world still in crisis, and half of my community unvaccinated, it wasn’t the climactic ending to a terrible year that I had hoped for. Still, I was so excited to finally get to hug some of my friends again. I soon got to work texting them, setting up times to hang out.
Quickly, the anxieties hit me. I haven’t used my communication muscles for a very long time. What if all my friends want to hang out at once, and I have to decide who gets priority? Or worse, what if my friends don’t want to hang out with me? Although I tried to keep some connection during the pandemic, what if it wasn’t enough? What if they judge me for how cautious I lived? Or for not being cautious enough? Can we recover from our pandemic-related tensions?
Still deeper sensitivities stirred in me. This hasn’t just been a year of a pandemic but a year of racial reckoning. Can I share with my friends honestly how I’ve been doing with that? Will they feel safe to share their pain with me? Do I even remember how to be cross-cultural apart from posting on Instagram? What if I say something unhelpful . . . will they still be my friend?
When I finally did get to see some of my friends, although I savored every moment, I spent hours afterward analyzing everything that I said and did, combing through every sentence, looking for ways my friends might judge me . . . or hate me. What was I thinking? Why did I say that?
You may not be a naturally paranoid person like me (Enneagram 6), but having a certain level of social anxiety after a year-plus of isolation is to be expected. Some of you are about to go back to campus or start working in-person for the first time in a long while. That’s a really big change! And anxiety is normal.
What do we do when anxiety comes? Here are a few suggestions:
- Notice & Nurture: In my last couple posts, I’ve written about the idea of noticing and nurturing (a concept taken from the founders of The Institute for Bio-Spiritual Research). When you feel anxiety or paranoia, notice it. Pay attention to where you carry it in your body.
Then bring some affection to that place. We can learn from Jesus who verbally and physically expressed his compassion for the socially rejected (Mark 1:41), and ask the Holy Spirit to help us bring that same affection to the hurting places within us. Maybe put a hand on that spot in your body, where you are carrying the anxiety and speak kindly: Of course, you feel anxious. It’s been a long time since you’ve socialized. I am with you. I won’t leave you. Rather than trying to curse or shame your anxiety away, just bring it some loving attention and be kind to yourself.
- Give Yourself Time: The amount of trauma and disruption that’s occurred in the last 15 months isn’t going to be healed overnight. Even if the world eventually opens up and life “goes back to normal,” it will not feel normal right away. Healing takes a long time.
Remind yourself that you don’t need to immediately bounce back. Go at the pace your body is ready to go. If that means not attending every large group or worship service just yet, that’s just fine. If it means you can’t plan the perfect outreach in the fall, that’s okay. And it’s even okay if you cannot immediately reconcile with every single friend. Give yourself time.
- Extend a LOT of grace. Remember that you’re not the only one going through some anxiety right now. Your friends and classmates may feel the same way. They may be upset with themselves about something they said to you, wondering why they can’t seem to hold a conversation anymore. This year has been a year of exposure, and we have all experienced a taste of ourselves at our worst. Keep extending grace, starting with yourself.
- Find a Counselor: If you need help finding a godly counselor, reach out to a local InterVarsity campus minister or pastor and ask for some referrals.
Anxiety is often correlated with fatigue. And though you can celebrate when you get to be with friends again, the pandemic and chaos in the world is not over. The fatigue from past and ongoing suffering is real. And we need an extra dose of compassion.
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psalm 103:8).
How do you relate to having anxiety in this season? What else has helped you?
*Dr. Edwin M. McMahon and Dr. Peter A. Campbell, Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality, Minneapolis, MN: Tasora Books 2010, pg 78.