The world isn't fully safe yet, but vaccinated people whose states have reopened to some extent may find themselves in a strange, nerve-wracking environment.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorder and cleaning rituals, trauma, or anxiety disorders may have an especially difficult time reacclimating.
"What was familiar no longer seems as familiar," said Lynn Bufka, the senior director of practice transformation and quality at the American Psychological Association. "For close to a year now, we've had messages of not being with others, to be distant ... then the idea that, 'Oh, there's ways that we can be with others and it's OK' — that's new information to reconcile. So, it's understandable that it feels different, at least, if not anxiety-provoking or stressful."
Anxiety can serve as a warning about situations we should pay attention to and be careful with, Bufka added. These are the experiences and places that may cause apprehension as the world reopens, and the tips experts have for handling them.
If you've been social distancing at home, it's likely the only people you have made eye contact with lately are your housemates, cashiers at stores and coworkers through a screen.
In a future without masks, "you might want to look down because you're afraid," said Jane Webber, an assistant professor of counselor education and doctoral program coordinator at Kean University in New Jersey. "Generally, just eye contact and a small smile I call the 'Mona Lisa smile' fills people on the other side with a really nice feeling. They will mirror what you do."
Eye contact is the easiest interaction to start with because it reintroduces us to connecting and showing we care, said Webber, who teaches about trauma, stress and coping skills.
Being among crowds
If you recently have watched a movie filmed before the pandemic, chances are any crowd scenes looked a little peculiar. While we're still far off from large gatherings, you may soon find yourself in increasingly close quarters in grocery stores or on mass transportation.
As a psychologist, Webber has taught students something called a "circle of protective space." She explained, "We'll put a rope or ribbon on the floor and (ask), 'How big of a circle do you need to feel safe in a crowd?' Most people will say, 'I need some space in front of me or on my sides.'"
Once you've decided how much space you need, strategically use your elbows or legs or an object — like a shopping bag or grocery cart — to create it. When you need people to respect your boundaries, kindly tell them, "I just need a little more space."
If you feel panicked, Webber suggested focusing on your breathing and telling yourself, "I'm going to be out of this in a few minutes." Move slowly with the crowd and toward the perimeters until you find space.
Shaking hands and hugging