When considering all of Covid-19’s harmful effects, isolation was one of the most profound for seniors, their families, and their caregivers. Many seniors’ full and active lives were put on hold as they were forced to isolate at home, with no visitors and no in-person social activities. Now that many people are vaccinated, California has started opening up again. Many senior centers are reopening, senior living facilities have resumed welcoming guests, and mask and social distancing requirements are being relaxed. With Independence Day approaching, you may find that you have been invited to a barbecue or other social gathering. Some have greeted this re-opening and resumption of activities with joy, while others feel anxious about the prospect of having to socialize with others. For those who feel anxious and unsure about how to reintegrate back into society, here are some tips, suggestions, and referrals.
Know That You Are Not Alone
If you’re feeling nervous and stressed about reintegrating with society, you should know that you are not alone in feeling this way. Many people, young and old alike, feel nervous about having to resume their social engagements and make small talk with others. Social anxiety is very common and not something to feel ashamed about. If you feel uncomfortable socializing with others, it’s okay to acknowledge those feelings and even to share with others that you feel this way. It is likely that others will share these feelings and may feel relieved to know that someone else feels the same way.
Keep it Light and Take Cues from Others
The past year has been full of loss and hardship for many people. Keep this in mind when chatting with others. The person you are speaking with may have experienced tremendous suffering during the pandemic and may not want to discuss the details of this suffering. While it is okay to talk about Covid-19, to avoid bringing up topics that may cause distress to others, keep your conversations light. Discuss topics like grandchildren, a book you’re reading, or hobbies that you enjoy. Pay attention and listen to what the other person is saying so that you can look for areas of common ground to discuss. This will help you find something to talk about and connect with the other person.
Take Small Steps
If you feel nervous and uncomfortable socializing with others, start small and set realistic goals. Rather than exposing yourself to big crowds, try limiting your interactions to one or two people at a time. You can set a goal, such as aiming to interact with one other person each day. Even going out to a public park or running errands can be a way of helping yourself feel comfortable being near others and being in public. If you are socializing with others and you find you need a break, go take a drink of water or step into the restroom for a minute to gather yourself and take a deep breath.1
The New York Times recently published an article with “Eight Exercises to Strengthen Your Social Muscles.”2 Try some of these activities:
- Share food with someone: this can boost your mood and combat loneliness.
- Tell a joke to someone in person: making eye contact and laughing with another can boost feelings of social connection
- Ask someone what they’re listening to or reading right now
- Reach out to someone who you’ve lost touch with
- Start up a conversation with a stranger
- Move with someone: dance, walk, run, swim, or bike together
- Sit quietly with someone: this will help you remember how to be comfortable in the presence of another
- Set a date for future socializing
If you haven’t gotten your Covid vaccine, go and get vaccinated. Ask your healthcare provider about getting a vaccine or click here to learn more about opportunities for vaccination in Contra Costa County. Getting a vaccine will greatly reduce the risk of illness from Covid-19 and may help you feel more comfortable being around others, especially as people stop wearing masks.
Resources for Seniors
For seniors who feel at a loss as to how to begin socializing and reintegrating, there are many resources to help you in Contra Costa County. The services below can provide seniors with a safe space to socialize, make friends, and cope with stress and anxiety.
Senior Centers: Many senior centers shut their doors in 2020 as the pandemic began to gain steam. Fortunately, many of these centers have announced that they will be re-opening this summer or fall. Contact your local senior center to learn more about their plans for re-opening. Senior centers run a wide range of programs for seniors, such as free legal clinics, dances, field trips, and festivals, making these centers a good place to go if you’re wondering how to re-connect with others.
Senior Peer Counseling: This is a free, confidential program for people who are 55 years or older. The program connects elders with a trained volunteer peer counselor who can help the elder deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. You can meet your Senior Peer Counselor at home or wherever else you feel comfortable. Counselors can talk through your issues with you, help you set and accomplish goals, and work with you to resolve a problem. To learn more call (925) 521-5653 or email Abraham Aviles-Scott at Abran.Aviles-Soctt@cchealth.org. Click here to learn more.
Meals on Wheels Friendly Visitors program: If you want to make a new friend and have company, sign up for Meals on Wheels’ Friendly Visitors program. The program pairs older adults with a volunteer visitor for weekly one-hour visits. To learn more about the program, call (925) 937-8311, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website.
Covia’s Well Connected program: Covia’s Well Connected program is a virtual community offering community-building activities over the phone and online. Activities include group conversations, games, and educational program. Well Connected Español offers services for Spanish speakers. Call (877) 797-7299, email email@example.com, or visit https://covia.org/programs/well-connected/ for more information.
1 The New York Times, “How to Talk to People Again,” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/23/well/small-talk-anxiety-strangers.html.
2 The New York Times, “Need to Dust Off Your Social Skills?,” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/well/mind/pandemic-re-entry.html.