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5 Tips to Reconnect With Family and Friends After Full COVID-19 Vaccination When You Have Anxiety

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

For a couple of months after recovering from a mild case of COVID-19, I became gripped by anxiety that I would get reinfected by a passerby on the street, a nurse at the clinic for my blood draws or moments in an elevator. I walked down the sidewalk constantly analyzing other people’s masks, stepping into the bike lane to avoid getting too close. My fear of contamination spread into other parts of my life, to the point where I ran to tell my husband if I accidentally brushed raw chicken while cooking. 

I’ve now hit two weeks following my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, so I fall under CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people. After living with day-to-day worry, I’m thrilled and grateful to walk outside without anxiety, but I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the new possibilities to reconnect. For me, hugging a friend indoors at first sounded intimidating, a sudden change from the behaviors that for the last year kept me and others safe. I’m trying to be intentional and informed about the changes I’m comfortable with, based on what’s important to me and my preferences for risk level.

If you’re considering the new CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people, here are ideas that have helped me so far, although everybody’s process looks different. You may be thinking about many specific factors to your situation, including the virus’s spread in your area, any high-risk health conditions, or your likelihood of recent exposure. This article is not public health guidance but rather ideas to help you deal with anxiety post-full vaccination as you decide whether to change any behaviors, in accordance with CDC and local guidelines.

1. You can ease back into activities as you need to.

As more people in my life get vaccinated, I’ve started getting invited to more social events. If you are experiencing pressure, whether criticism from others or internal conflict about what we are “supposed” to do now, know that you have every right to choose your own values at your own pace. Everybody’s situation is unique, and you might have different criteria than other people for your decisions. Whether or not you decide to try something different, you are allowed to change your mind over time, to give yourself space to consider and research, to do whatever you need to do to feel safe in your own situation with your public health principles.

2. Feel free to prioritize people and activities.

As an introvert who struggles with social anxiety, I’m more motivated to see some people than others. Depending on the situation, I’m also more willing to go out of my comfort zone for activities that are important to me. You do not need to treat every person and activity the same. Maybe you decide to adjust your usual preferences to see a special loved one. Or maybe you say no to an event, simply because you wouldn’t enjoy the company or activity enough. Your choices are valid and meaningful. 

3. Decide if and how you want to communicate about risk tolerance and comfort levels.

I’ve talked openly about my understanding of risk at a social event, or I’ve declined with little explanation. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to come, but let me know what date you pick.” “I think right now I’m not comfy, but thanks for thinking of me!” Conversations about risk tolerance when another person has different views can be helpful, or may become awkward or confrontational, depending on the other person and your relationship. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your decisions unless you’re interested in having the conversation.

If you decide to go to an event, feel free to ask about other people’s choices ahead of time, such as asking if people will be wearing masks. At the event, you can turn down activities that you’re not comfortable with. If you need to, you can make up a reason to leave early. Your preferences and public health principles are worthy of respect, regardless of whether people might disagree.

4. Use mindfulness to anchor and reflect on your values.

At a recent hangout, I felt my anxiety rising when a friend leaned close to me. I caught myself replaying the moment and analyzing the risk. I’d researched and decided ahead of time the new situations I wanted to try post-full vaccination, including not socially distancing with these vaccinated friends at this small gathering as per CDC guidelines, but my reaction of anxiety was immediate. I realized that I was used to protective behaviors from the last year, that I had depended on with daily urgency. 

Practice mindfulness, or paying attention to the moment, to pause and check into your values and comfort level when your anxiety spikes. In order to be mindful, you can breathe deeply focusing on the passage of breath through your body, feel your feet on the floor, or use all five senses to notice your surroundings. After you are more anchored outside of your anxiety, you can try to make an intentional decision, whether it is to continue the new behavior or to rethink your risk tolerance. 

5. Check in with yourself afterward.

Did you feel good in the moment? How did you cope with any anxiety — were the levels manageable? Considering your values for public health and relationships, was the event worth the risk? You might find that you were more comfortable than you expected, or find that moments of anxiety became painful. Weighing your personal experience, you can decide if this activity is important and meaningful to you. You can choose to continue trying new behaviors, you can stop or you can pick future situations to fit your values better, perhaps changing the activity or setting. Virtual, outdoor or any other types of hangouts that have felt safe to you are still available. No matter what you decide, you always have the option to evolve and adapt. You can try something new or you can stick to your current behaviors, whatever brings you safety and helps you live out your values.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Originally published: May 18, 2021
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