How to re-adjust to socialising and maximise the pleasure of going out, experts reveal

After months of isolation and staying at home, many people have embraced finally being able to see their loved ones again. 

From May 17, families and friends will once again be allowed to meet indoors, with the ‘rule of six’ (or two households) coming into effect for gatherings.

As the UK increasingly opens up and Britons are given even more incentive to reignite their social lives, some are embracing freedom with open arms and filling up their calendars – while others are understandably more wary, feeling the need to play it safe.

Afterall, for the past year we have predominantly been keeping in touch via video and phone calls and digital conversations, so it’s natural we might feel nervous and hesitant about plunging ourselves back into the social realm. 

Whichever side of the social seesaw you sit on, there are a host of techniques to help you re-adjust to real life and boost the potential of having a good time. Here experts share their tips for coping with reintegration with FEMAIL.

After months of isolation and staying at home, many people have embraced finally being able to see their loved ones again – but others may have found suddenly being thrust into a social scene again daunting (stock image)

DON’T PUSH YOURSELF TOO SOON 

Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist and clinical director of The Private Therapy Clinic, urges people not to beat themselves up over any negative feelings they may have towards the idea of socialising and going out. 

‘As a society, and as individuals, we have all just been through a big shock,’ she said. ‘For months, we’ve been told that seeing our friends and family is an at-risk activity that may spread disease.

‘Many of us have had to carefully avoid seeing our elderly loved ones for risk of infecting them. Having absorbed this lesson, and acted upon it, it’s only natural that it will take some time to unlearn it, and to realise that it is once again safe to see the people we care about.’

Jennifer Dorman, expert sociolinguist from the language learning app Babbel, advises starting off small with one-to-one interactions to get used to the feeling of talking to people face-to-face again, which will make larger social situations in the future feel less daunting or overwhelming.

‘It may feel almost as though we have “forgotten” how to communicate, as our minds and bodies check-in with old norms such as making eye contact and using body language to express ourselves,’ she said. 

‘Be patient, take it slowly, and you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable again in no time. The best thing we can do to combat this is ease into social settings.’ 

Jennifer Dorman, expert sociolinguist from the language learning app Babbel, advises starting off small with one-to-one interactions to get used to the feeling of talking to people face-to-face again, which will make larger social situations in the future feel less daunting or overwhelming (stock image)

Jennifer Dorman, expert sociolinguist from the language learning app Babbel, advises starting off small with one-to-one interactions to get used to the feeling of talking to people face-to-face again, which will make larger social situations in the future feel less daunting or overwhelming (stock image)

SLEEP AND EXERCISE REGULARLY 

Niels Eék, psychologist and co-founder of personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente, says maintaining healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, have been shown to help reduce anxiety. 

He explained: ‘Staying active is also a way to naturally boost endorphins, leaving us feeling more positive, enabling us to better cope with stressful situations.’ 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends an average of seven to nine hours sleep per night for adults, but this varies from person to person. Niels said you can also boost your mental energy by incorporating a ‘broader range of physical activities’ now that gyms and exercise studios have started to reopen. 

START SMALL 

Think about it like returning to the gym – your body needs time to build up its social fitness and resilience.

Dr Spelman said you might find you’ve become increasingly sensitive to noise and sound over the past year.

‘It’s easy to feel overstimulated when everything is too loud and people are talking over one another,’ she said. ‘It can be easier to focus and have quality conversations with two to four people, while a big party or a very crowded event might feel overwhelming at first. Even if you’re used to hanging out in big groups, start small and work up.’ 

PLAN FEEL-GOOD OUTFITS 

If you’ve ever left the house wearing something that makes you feel self-conscious, do you find it eats away at you all day?

Scientists use the term ‘enclothed cognition’ to describe the influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes like emotions, attitudes, confidence and behaviour, as well as interactions with others.

Dr Spelman told FEMAIL: ‘If you’re already anxious about meeting people, it will only be compounded if you’re wearing an item that makes you feel deflated from the moment you walk out the door.

‘If you’re carrying a few extra lockdown pounds, don’t attempt to squeeze into garments that immediately generate feelings of discomfort. Rather than bursting your bubble, it’s really important to put something on that sparks joy. 

‘Spend a moment going through your wardrobe and pull out all the items that you’ve been previously complimented on or that evoke good memories. If they pass the self-confidence test above, put them to the test on your next outing.

‘If you can afford it, consider also buying something new that evokes positivity. You don’t have to spend a lot of money: even a scarf in a shade that brings out the colour of your eyes can lift your outfit – and your mood!’

TRY HIIT: HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL SOCIAL TRAINING 

The concept of meeting up with people can feel overwhelming when you haven’t seen friends and family in months. Especially if you’re nervous about the conversation drying up as you’ve not been up to much.

Again, try evolving a concept that we’ve become accustomed to with exercising – high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which refers to the short bursts of intense exercise alternated with low-intensity recovery periods – and apply the approach to catching up with people.

Arrange to meet friends in short sharp bursts to help you get back in the groove – so for example opt for a coffee over a long boozy lunch.

You may need to challenge yourself to kick start the process, but each time you repeat an activity and have a positive experience it will help to reaffirm that you still enjoy it, which can leave you craving more.

If you are afraid of running out of conversation quickly because nothing much has happened in your life, rest assured that your friends are probably feeling much the same way. You could consider a book or film club event at which you all gather to discuss a book or a film that you have all experienced recently. This would be a great way to break the ice and kick start a conversation.

MAKING EYE CONTACT 

Eye contact is important when it comes to communication as you can say a lot without saying a word and is a big component of making someone feel understood or heard during the conversation. 

Jennifer said that the way we have communicated during lockdown means that eye contact ‘may now feel a bit alien or be something we forget to do’. 

She added: ‘While you shouldn’t be trying to bore deep into your conversation partner’s soul with an intense stare, try and make at least some eye contact during conversations. 

‘It can help to show that you’re present and comfortable in the company of the people around you, and make you feel more connected to others. 

‘Many of us might have to initially overcome feelings of anxiety or awkwardness when making eye contact face-to-face. 

‘Once you start using in person eye contact again, you’ll ease back into the natural swing of things.’  

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