By Therapist Carrie Krawiec, LMFT, Birmingham Maple Clinic
As the state begins phases of reopening, people have reported FOGO, or a “fear of going out.” For some, this fear is about the safety of resuming contact during a pandemic. These people are deeply fearful of getting sick or having someone they know getting sick because of their behaviors. Others are fearful of being uncomfortable in new environments, being judged by peers or family for their reluctance to resume normalcy, or not performing the new expectations well enough. The latter could be indicative of social anxiety disorder, where the fear of being judged or intensely watched by others interferes with daily life.
For many with social anxiety there was relief during the COVID-19 stay home orders as everyone was largely expected to behave the same. Now as restrictions ease, some people feel uncertain about how they will be treated socially and professionally if they do not join in, ultimately causing undue pressure, shame and fear of failure. Additionally, there is another group of people who do not want to participate in returning to normal but also do not want to miss out engaging with friends or family as others start to do so. They may experience FOGO and FOMO (the fear of missing out) simultaneously causing rejection, isolation, and sadness.
Here are a few tips to help find balance between your social, professional, and relational expectations versus your own physical and psychological needs.
- Accept adjustment and anxiety. The new behaviors and expectations required of us are plentiful. Accept that adjusting is hard and may cause stress. Do not shame yourself for feeling stressed. Stress is a part of our fight or flight response to protect us. It is OK to feel uneasy in uncertain situations especially during an uncertain time. Our bodies are equipped to handle stress, but in turn needs periods of rest. Be sure to structure your time so that you can make attempts at what is expected of you but also have planned periods of downtime.
- Predict and problem-solve to prevent panic. Predicting what you may need to feel comfortable will be important as you anticipate these stressful situations. Brainstorm potential solutions such as going to stores early morning or end of day, finding an ally amongst friends if you need a code word to leave early, or let your children know you may try a park or activity but that you will also have a backup plan in case the park is too busy or seems unsafe.
- Create comfort and coping in times of calm. Routinely practicing deep breathing exercises, including at home while wearing a mask, is an important way to improve your resilience to the triggers that may cause panic when you are out in the world. Deep breathers reduce the incidence of panic because they are less likely to send themselves into physical situations that cause panic – increased heart rate, dizziness and muscle tension. When your blood is not properly oxygenated, it may signal a stress response that contributes to anxiety and panic attacks. Practice deep breathing during calm times so that it’s easier to apply it when it is necessary.