Life without restrictions: how to do it

21 April 2022


Working from home, social distancing, wearing facemasks: it’s all finally behind us. And although it’s great that the rules have been scrapped, it still takes some getting used to. How do you cope with the stimuli of social interactions now that everything is allowed again?

Struggling with change
We are all different. Some people are eager to see their colleagues again, while others come home exhausted after a day at the office. It seems that many people are finding it difficult to really dive back into social interactions. The main reason for our resistance? Change. Just as we have got used to our life with restrictions, we have to adapt again. So give yourself time to get used to social interactions again. For example, build up the number of days at the office gradually, and don’t immediately pack your weekends with social activities. That will help you to gradually reacclimatise to the old normal.

Social overstimulation
It may also be that you are slightly overstimulated. Overstimulation basically means that there is too much information coming in through your senses. It is often accompanied by headaches, fatigue, stress, sleeping problems and sometimes overflowing emotions. After lockdown, more people are reporting this kind of overload. If you feel that your ‘battery’ is empty after a family birthday or a long day at work, it’s important to give yourself some peace and quiet as well.

Tips for ‘destimulating’

1. Take a time-out
If you notice that you are getting overstimulated, for example because you are getting tired in social situations or getting irritated more quickly by little things, take a short time-out. Step outside (on your own) for some fresh air, or separate yourself from the group for a moment. Allow yourself a moment’s peace: it’s really not odd that you need this from time to time.

2. Tell someone how you feel
If you think it’s odd to walk away from your colleagues or to suddenly step outside at a birthday party, then ask someone to go with you. It’s usually a great relief to tell someone how you feel. It also sometimes leads to the best conversations. The chances are that you are far from being the only one who is finding social situations more challenging than before.

3. Be kind to yourself
Are you puzzled by the fact that you feel overstimulated more quickly nowadays? Or do you tell yourself off when you’re dreading another birthday party? Don’t! Just try to be kind to yourself and accept that life is a little different these days. The more space you give yourself, the faster you will get used to social situations again.

4. Do breathing exercises
If you’re in a social situation and feel really overstimulated, it may also help to do a breathing exercise. For example, go to the toilet and put your hand on your stomach. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and feel your stomach expand. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth, as if spinning a fine thread with your breath. Feel how your stomach collapses. Do this for a few minutes. You will see that you feel much calmer afterwards.

Picking up our social life again is an adjustment for many people. Fortunately, you will get used to it. Allow yourself room to do so, and also be kind to others around you who are still struggling a bit with all the social stimuli. That is how we can help one another move forward.

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