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Managing Post Vaccine Social Anxiety

Now that more and more of us are getting vaccinated, the possibility of the world opening up again is becoming more and more real. While it’s still important to be safe, with vaccinations, we can feel safer gathering with other vaccinated folks (or low-risk non-vaccinated folks who are also still following the recommended precautions) and even venturing into public spaces

First thing to do is say yay! How great we live in a world where science can move so quickly when allowed! The second thing to do is to still check up on what the CDC is recommending for those who’ve gotten the vaccine.

Because while the vaccines have been safely tested, the data is always updating, and we’re always learning new things. Be sure to keep up with verified sources like the CDC letting you know what’s safe and what poses risk. 

However, the re-opening of the world definitely looks a little different to what we may have been fantasizing about back at the beginning of the pandemic. We were probably dreaming about parties with our friends, big celebrations, festivals, concerts. Basically, throwing off our masks and doing whatever we wanted! 

Unfortunately, that’s not really how it’s looking. Reentry into the world is coming much more gradually, with waves of people qualifying for vaccinations. Some people who were in the first round of vaccines, for example, didn’t really experience that “reentry” feeling–because they likely didn’t know many other people who did qualify for a vaccine, so the protection they had from the vaccine didn’t extend to their social circle. We’re taking turns, still wearing our masks in most places, still adhering to social distancing and public health guidelines in public places. 

And while even a slow re-entry is something to be excited about, the excitement is also colored a bit by anxiety for many people. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, the anxiety isn’t just reserved for unvaccinated folks. About 48% of people who have gotten the vaccine report feeling uncomfortable returning to in-person interactions. 

So why are we all feeling so anxious even after getting the vaccine?

Well, just like any other instance of anxiety, it’s going to vary a bit from person to person. But we can see a few key reasons why reentry, even while vaccinated, is causing a spike in anxiety, instead of that feeling of relief at the prospect of returning to “normal.” 

One of the most obvious reasons is that we’ve spent the last year being told to stay very far away from one another! We’ve had to retrain ourselves. Instead of hugging people when we see them, we taught ourselves to take a step back, ensure there is six feet between us. A year of that sort of thinking and self-conditioning is hard to undo! It will feel unnatural at first to be able to hug a friend or sit in a public place. 

There is also a certain degree of uncertainty with the vaccine and the pandemic still. While the science behind the vaccine leads us to believe it will prevent transmission between vaccinated and non vaccinated people (what we see with other vaccines) we can’t say for sure because there isn’t enough data.  The same goes with how long it lasts–we know for sure the vaccine lasts 6 months, but due to the circumstances of the pandemic we can’t say for sure 100% that it lasts beyond that–no matter how promising the data looks now. 

This uncertainty–even slight–is enough to make people nervous! And that’s a totally natural response to things we don’t know all the details of. Especially given the current environment, where anxiety in general has been heightened over the last year. Of course now when we’re being asked to be okay with small uncertainties, we’re struggling with it! 

It’s been easier over the last year to split things into “definitely safe” and “definitely unsafe” even when there has been a gray area–being overly cautious has helped mitigate some of the anxiety. If we couldn’t say something was safe, better to just avoid it! But now that it’s time to reenter the world that binary isn’t as helpful and can actually unnecessarily increase anxiety. 

So what can we do about it?

Read up from credited sources (like the CDC) to stay updated on their vaccine information:

Being informed means being able to make safer decisions. Misinformation is a big source of anxiety with the vaccine whether it’s about how it’s made, how that will affect your body, the conspiracies floating around on SM, how long it will last, who it protects, etc. Information is shared so quickly often without checking the source or if it has been verified or fact checked. Stop yourself from falling into a panic spiral about the vaccine by being properly informed about it! And learn to gently redirect your friends to credited sources when you see them sharing information that only works to increase panic. 

Find out the vaccination  status of your friends:

Of course no one has to tell you their medical information, but knowing who in your life is vaccinated and who is not can help you make informed decisions about who is safe to be around, what “normal” activities are safe, etc.  Make precaution plans with friends who don’t want or cannot get the vaccine that takes everyone’s health and safety into account. (Check out this “who can you be around” graphic from IG if you aren’t sure when to wear a mask and when not to when you’re vaccinated!)

And let your friends know what level of contact you’re comfortable with (are you okay being indoors? Indoors without masks? Indoors without masks, and hugging each other?)

Ease yourself into it post-vaccine socializing:

Just because now you have the ability to reenter the world, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to! Start small if you’re nervous. Maybe just meet a friend at a park, no masks! Or pick a small bubble of safe people to be around unmasked and continue on with regular precautions in all other areas. Slowly start to expand your life with things begin going to safe public places again as you feel more comfortable.  

You’re only human, so it’s okay if you’re struggling with this transition. Remember to be gentle with yourself and ask for help when you need it. Come talk to our counselors today for more support.