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Nervous about seeing your friends again? Psychologist shares tips as pandemic restrictions ease

How to manage re-entry anxiety
Psychologist Lisa Damour on dealing with anxiety as pandemic restrictions ease 04:40

In our week-long series, "Spring Into Summer," we are looking at how people can manage their anxiety about re-entering society after the coronavirus pandemic.

After spending over a year dreaming of post-pandemic life, many people are finding themselves hesitant to accept an invitation to an outdoor picnic or reunite with an old friend over coffee. 

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, nearly 50% of Americans are nervous about having in-person interactions again — a perfectly normal response, psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour says.

"It's like if you had been practicing piano every day and then you stepped away for a very long time. You'll feel uneasy when you sit back down at that piano, but that doesn't mean you're starting from zero," Damour said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. "As soon as you get back into it, it will all come back. The same is true for our social skills."

Taking slow, deep breaths when feeling anxious is a good way to calm the physical feeling of nervousness, she said, explaining that it sends a signal of safety from the lungs to the brain.

Damour also suggested a tactic she called "naming it to tame it."

"You can say to somebody 'Woah, this feels really awkward, my social skills are really rusty.' If you do that, they'll feel more at ease, and you'll feel more at ease too," she said.

For those overwhelmed by the significant shift both within their circles and communities as a whole, Damour recommends to "start small" with only as much interaction as one can manage. 

"Ease yourself into it," she said, urging people to keep in mind their social circles and day-to-day life may look somewhat different than they did when the first lockdowns were implemented more than a year ago. 

"It may mean that we maintain smaller social circles or we socialize less often than we did in the past. And I know that it can feel stressful to think about doing things differently now than we used to, but what we have to remember is that human beings are really good at adapting," she said.

Damour also advised not letting anxiety prevent you from doing what you feel safe doing. 

"Anxiety is a normal and healthy emotion," she said. "We don't want it to keep us from doing things we want to do like seeing the people we care about."

The psychologist compared anxiety to "one member of your personal board of directors."

"It gets a vote in the decisions you make, but it's very rarely getting the deciding vote," she said. 

For people who have children or others who depend on them, Damour said it was important to manage the anxiety effectively — for themselves, and for those around them 

"Sometimes our anxiety can feel contagious," she said. "What we want to model for children and those around us is that we can handle anxiety. The goal here is not to feel totally comfortable. Uncomfortable feelings are absolutely part of life. The goal is to manage those feelings effectively."

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