Your social life is booming again. Experts say ‘take baby steps’ as you start to see people.

By: Marilyn Fettner

Many people are showing off vaccine cards or stickers on social media to wave a “hang out with me” flag – but what if the social invites become overwhelming? 

More than 246 million shots have been given out in the U.S., and upwards of 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated. As those numbers grow, your inbox may start filling up with invites to brunches, happy hours and dinner parties. And while the prospect of going out after a year of staying at home may be exciting, for some, these invites can also fuel anxiety.

Experts say one of the ways to get a handle on these feelings is to acknowledge your limits when it comes to in-person interactions – and know when to turn down an invitation. 

“It’s important to know yourself. What is enough socializing? What is too much?” says life coach Marilyn Fettner. “Notice yourself; notice your own reaction and how you’re feeling about getting back into a social life.” 

It’s normal to feel stressed when being social again

Nearly half of Americans say they feel uneasy thinking about in-person interaction once the pandemic ends, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2021 Stress in America report. Experts say these uneasy feelings are normal and expected because of the nature in which we were isolated. 

Fettner says it’s important to take time to establish what your needs are before committing to a social obligation. As people start to socialize, they will have different levels of comfort with in-person interactions. 

Dr. Debra O’Shea, a neuropsychologist who works with adults who experience social anxiety, says to “start thinking about your comfort level.” Take “baby steps,” she says, “dip your foot in the pond slowly.” 

How to prioritize who to hang with first

According to guidelines released by the CDC April 27, fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear a mask outside, except in crowded setting.

The guidelines also listed several activities that are considered safe for fully vaccinated people to participate in without wearing a mask:

  • Walk, run, wheelchair roll or bike outdoors
  • Attend a small, outdoor gathering with fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
  • Dine at an outdoor restaurant with friends from multiple household

It’s exciting to finally expand the number of people who you can safely hang out with, but it can be difficult to divvy up your time and decide who to see first.

“Having to be confined to home made you really think about when you got a chance to spend time, who would you spend that time with,” says celebrity lifestyle manager Saunté Lowe. 

Lowe organizes the calendar of “Hidden Figures” and “Empire” actress Taraji P. Henson. She recommends that when sorting through daily invites, prioritize time with the people you weren’t able to spend as much time with during your more hectic pre-pandemic life. 

“Those (are) people that really freaking matter,” Lowe says. “Start with those people and work your way out.” 

O’Shea says it’s helpful to prioritize people based onhow familiar you are with them. 

“Find your group, your people who you’re comfortable with, and start socializing with them and then branch out,” O’Shea says. “You don’t have to see everybody right now.”

Sometimes, it’s best to just decline invitations

When your plate becomes too full or you feel uncomfortable from a safety standpoint, experts suggest you politely decline certain invitations. 

“I think everybody needs self care,” O’Shea says. “If you’re feeling bombarded or a boom of social invites, then maybe spread them out a little bit so you can do some self care.”

Research shows that saying no can be hard because of learned behavior and is even harder for women to say. 

“For many of us, what may look like ‘people pleasing’ behavior in our daily life was at one point a strategy we learned to stay safe in some way,” said Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Even if saying ‘no’ may be a safe option for you in the present moment, many of us hold the memory of how this step has backfired or set-off others in the past.”

Lowe says it’s important to say no during this time. She says saying no brings serenity because life is not about being everywhere all the time, but rather is about “selectively picking those things that bring you peace and joy.”

Fettner says there are many techniques for declining an invitation to a social gathering you’d rather not attend.

 “Start with something positive; thank the person for the invitation,” she says. “If you feel that you need to say no, see if you can also include the possibility of maybe getting together next week or maybe in two weeks.”

O’Shea says if there are aspects of the gathering that make you uncomfortable, such as if the plan includes too many people, offer an alternative: “Decline the larger event, but maybe make a separate plan for just the two of you together.”

Lowe says the purpose of an invitation is to make a decision.

“They already know that you might not be able to come,” she says. “At the end of the day, you only get one life and you can only be at one place at one time.”