By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As vaccines roll out and restrictions roll back, some of us are putting social events back on our calendars. While many have waited for this moment, some feel anxious about returning to social life.

When the pandemic hit, Tammy Rustad, a flight attendant from St. Paul, went from flying around the world to sitting on her couch.

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“I could work up to four flights a day that could be literally coming into contact with 400 people,” said Rustad. “I havent been on a trip since last February.”

But now that the end is in sight, she admits to feeling a little nervous.

“I haven’t been in a restaurant for over a year. I haven’t been to the salon in over a year,” said Rustad. “There obviously is anxiety going forward as to what it’s going to be when I get back out there.”

Dr. Andrea Hutchinson, a licensed psychologist, is expecting to see more clients with social anxiety in the coming months.

“We just lose that social muscle,” Hutchinson said. “I think we all had that awkwardness at the beginning of Zoom. Now we’ve lost the skills on the other handoff how do we interact in real life.”

The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Craig Sawchuk says often the way to fight anxiety is by facing it.

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“Excitement and anxiety can coexist. It’s actually going to take a bit for many of us to rebuild that social stamina,” he said. “One of the best treatments for this are social connections. It’s only through experience that we can start to push on those boundaries of the comfort zone again.”

“It’s so easy to order food online now, so instead of ordering online, call the restaurant, place your order over the phone,” Hutchinson suggested.

When it’s safe, start small. Have coffee with a friend, enjoy something with less stimulation than something like a festival. And add on from there.

“Each time you do that the anxiety is going to get smaller,” Hutchinson said.

“It’s kind of like rebuilding life’s true antidepressants,” Sawchuk said.

So maybe you’re like Rustad, who expects things to be awkward for some time. It probably will be, but only temporarily while we get back into things together.

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Sawchuk says clinical social anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions he sees, but not everyone who feels anxious needs clinical care. If you are constantly making and breaking plans because of social fears, you may want to speak with someone.

Erin Hassanzadeh