How to leave your Zoom account and socialize in real life again? Therapist says take it slow

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“As we re-enter face-to-face social contact, we need to retrain ourselves to be present in the moment with people that we're interacting with,” says therapist Dawn Delgado. Photo by Shutterstock.

LA County hit the benchmark today to enter the yellow tier of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan. Because of that, bars are set to restart indoor operations with limited capacity, restaurants can up their capacity to 50%, and maybe your social calendar is starting to fill up again. That can be potentially exciting and terrifying at the same time. 

To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month, KCRW speaks with therapist Dawn Delgado about dealing with the prospect of returning to social activities.

KCRW: Why is there still so much stigma around discussing mental health or suffering from mental health issues?

Dawn Delgado: “I believe that the stigma is diminishing. I believe that we're entering a new era where people are aware that mental health is not just a topic or a subject matter for some people. It's for everyone. We all know someone who's impacted by mental health challenges or were impacted ourselves.”

What are you hearing from patients about returning to some semblance of normalcy?

“I'm hearing mixed reactions. There's a spectrum of excitement and this bubbling up feeling of anticipation, like the roaring 20s when everyone was ready to get back out and dance and socialize and shop and come together. And at the same time, there's a lot of anxiety. 

There's some social overstimulation, and questions about social awkwardness, like how to interact in this new kind of normal. So I'm hearing a lot of exhaustion with normal types of social interactions, people are reporting just being wiped out after a normal gathering or an interaction with friends.”

What kind of advice would you give someone who is really uncomfortable about getting back to social activities? 

“It's hard to know how close to stand [to someone and] what to talk about. It's normal right now for conversations to gravitate towards vaccines and the pandemic and COVID. And normal chit chat just seems a little odd at this point with what we've all experienced. 

So my advice is really just to take it slow. Be kind and gentle and ask questions about how people want to engage and interact — versus just jumping into a pre-pandemic type of interacting.”

People relied more heavily on their devices and social media to stay connected to friends and family during the pandemic. How can they break away from the tech, and get back to in-person socializing? 

“That's a really great question: How to break up with your Zoom account and to integrate back with real live people? I think It's gonna be a gradual process, and I think we need to ease back into those interactions. 

And yes, we need to get fully dressed from head to toe now and pay attention to one another. When we're talking, there's an impact that those virtual platforms have had on us and our level of interacting when we can mute ourselves whenever we want, or we can turn off the video and be less accountable to that interaction. 

And now part of what might be exhausting people is that as we re-enter face-to-face social contact, we need to retrain ourselves to be present in the moment with people that we're interacting with.”

Do you think the idea that COVID is going to be around for longer than initially thought will have a negative impact on mental health?

“Absolutely. I think we're at a juncture where we're looking to integrate this pandemic into our daily lives. At the beginning, you and I and the listeners, we really hoped for a quick and final exit from the pandemic. And as things have lasted over this past year, it does really look like we're moving towards integrating this reality into our future lives. So we are all going to be coping with that. 

And there are a variety of different stress levels and anxiety levels related to that. Some people are still tracking numbers and watching the news day to day and have an extreme reaction to that. Others may now feel like we're kind of back into the normal or maybe even wanting to … not to think about the numbers and the impact. 

So it's just going to be part of our lives at this point, maybe not the finish line that we were all hoping for when this pandemic started.”

Credits

Guest:

  • Dawn Delgado - Licensed marriage and family therapist, Dawn Delgado Therapy