For many of us, the end of summer comes with a sense of anticipation. There’s something promising about the shift from spontaneous summer days to September routines — not to mention the lattes and sweaters.
This year, September is a little more complicated. We are heading into our first fall with loosened restrictions and in many instances, returning to social situations we haven’t faced in over a year. There are countless firsts coming — whether it be attending in-person university classes or meeting coworkers after months of Zoom.
These unknowns can come with a lot of anxiety says Jill, a registered psychologist with the County’s counselling team. “There's so much that we don't know about where others are at with the pandemic and with social interactions. There’s so many layers — questions that just can’t be answered going into the fall.”
And while we can’t predict the future, Jill offers a few practical ways to face our social anxiety and enter the fall with hope.
Start with self-reflection
While many of Alberta’s restrictions lifted in early July, many of us have still not had the time to process the effects of the pandemic, explains Jill.
“We’ve been open for the summer and for a lot of people it’s been great to have that reprieve. But it hasn't allowed us to slow down and think,” she says.
Now, if the thought of returning to fall routines comes with a looming anxiety, Jill suggests taking the time to intentionally find out what you’re feeling by asking yourself: What were my highlights? What were my biggest struggles? What am I most afraid of? Why am I afraid of that?
It may be useful to journal your answers, Jill adds. Working through these tough questions can help us better understand our needs and prepare to communicate those to others.
When we do return to social situations, there’s potential for awkwardness to arise as we all express our different boundaries and comfort levels — will we be avoiding handshakes? Keeping a six-foot personal bubble?
Rather than shying away from these awkward moments, it’s helpful to acknowledge our feelings openly, says Jill. “That vulnerability off the start opens up opportunities for others to be vulnerable and share where they are at. And that brings about understanding, which can decrease some of that awkwardness.”
And, that openness has long-term positive impacts. “Vulnerability is going to help us feel genuine and help us keep coping. It's also going to make the relationships we do have stronger.”
Learn to QTIP
Undoubtedly, there will still be moments where we feel uncomfortable or rejected in in social situations.
If this happens, Jill suggests remembering the acronym QTIP — Quit Taking It Personally. “As humans, we tend to make things about ourselves, whether or not they are actually about us. Others’ responses to you aren’t necessarily yours to own,” she says.
We will all have different comfort levels as we return to gathering, and what feels like a rejection is often someone’s boundary based on their needs and not an issue with you personally.
See the good
Although fall signals more change after a tumultuous year, it’s useful to notice and celebrate some of the small positives of returning to social spheres, reminds Jill.
“There’s a sense of belonging when we’re able to just have casual conversation about day-to-day stuff,” she says. “You feel heard about the nonsensical stuff. You know, parents can show pictures of their kids. It’s those small things that make up life.”
This story is part of our campaign to encourage empathy as we enter community recovery from COVID-19. If you’re struggling with your mental health, finances or just feel overwhelmed, call our Family and Community Services line at 780-464-4044.