While you used to look forward to dining out with friends and mingling with colleagues at the office, these seemingly ordinary activities could make you feel uneasy. After all, you’ve spent the past year and a half avoiding people, so being up-close-and-personal feels wrong. To work through these emotions, psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., suggests a behavioral technique called ‘systematic desensitization.’ In this practice, you gradually expose yourself to what makes you uneasy. In other words: you face your fears at a pace that feels right to you.
To start, Dr. Thomas says you should map out a hierarchy of the least distressing to the most distressing aspects of the situation. Then, you will begin with the least scary activity (say, going for a socially distanced walk without a mask) and keep doing that until you feel better. While you’re going through this exposure, you should practice deep breathing and other calming techniques so you learn to self-soothe.
“The combination of gradually exposing yourself to the stressful situation, along with calming yourself at the same time, can help you gain confidence and courage,” Dr. Thomas adds.