Feeling End-of-Pandemic Social Awkwardness? This Is How To Warm Up Your Social Muscles

Photo: Getty Images/Brook Pifer
"I feel so socially awkward"—that was the often-repeated phrase at the first pandemic birthday party I attended. We got over it—wine helps—but it's a reminder of how the past year affected our behavioral skills. Like, we're supposed to hang out? In the same space? After a year of sweatpants and global turmoil? If the thought of post-pandemic conversations make you uneasy, you're not alone. But it is possible to feel less awkward by warming up your social muscles, according to world-renowned psychologists and founders of Safe Conversations Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD.

Experts In This Article
  • Harville Hendrix, PhD, Harville Hendrix, PhD, is an internationally-respected couple's therapist, educator, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author.
  • Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, is an internationally-respected couple's therapist, educator, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author.

"Now that we're getting vaccinated, there may be a residual fear still lingering, making social interactions stressful," says Dr. Hendrix. "This leaves people to question how to return to normal once they get the vaccine and if they'll ever feel confident socializing again. There are tips and techniques people can incorporate in their daily routine to begin warming up their social muscles, and prepare to re-enter social situations confidently."

Basically, warming up your social muscles allows you to ease back into social interactions through simple everyday exercises. And before we begin, it helps to acknowledge what you want to work on. "The recognition of your feelings will help you set your intentions and allow yourself the space to work on this skill and improve," says Dr. Hendrix.

How to be less socially awkward around people as the pandemic ends

1. Make time for casual conversations

Look, while small talk can be unbearable for the introverted, the simplest way to warm up your social muscles is to make time for casual conversations. I've been doing endless dental work during the pandemic, and while it's difficult to chit-chat with a drill in my mouth, the regular catch-ups has actually made me feel more secure in socially-distant hangs.

"The pandemic has created not only the physical distance to come between friendships but also emotional distance," says Dr. Hunt. "Create time boundaries around these conversations to honor your time and space. Small, casual interactions are a great way to practice socializing again before you’re faced with larger social situations."

2. Focusing on listening skills

We all know that video chatting has made listening to others more complicated. Beyond the technical snafus, it's trickier to read people's body language cues; you end up waiting for your time to talk. So hone in your listening skills in the meantime.

"Take the time to listen to others more intentionally and mirror back what that person is saying to show that you truly understand what they are saying," says Dr. Hendrix.  "This allows you to clarify what the information the person had communicated. Follow up with the simple phrase 'is there more about that?' You'll be surprised how much those five words can open up a dialogue."

3. Reflect on the last year

If you have intense social anxiety about returning to the so-called real world, look back at everything that happened. Then, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

"Think about how you will answer the questions 'how are you?' and 'what have you been up to?' in a way that encourages meaningful conversation," says Dr. Hunt. "Take a brief moment to validate your friend by saying 'that makes sense.' You can talk about a new hobby or skill you may have picked up over the last year. Focus on the positives that have taken place in your life in the last year, even if it is few."

If you have a good "script" prepared on the reflections on this past year, it can serve as a guide for navigating social interactions—and lead to the stronger, more meaningful conversations we all crave at this moment.

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