Interpersonal Edge: Returning to Life Post-COVID

Q: I feel like I’ve developed agoraphobia after being home for over a year. Now that I’ve received the vaccine it’s hard to go back out into the world. Have I actually developed some kind of phobia about the outside world or are other people having trouble re-entering their old lives?

A: You’re unlikely to have developed agoraphobia after being home for a year. The actual psychological disorder involves an abnormal fear of helplessness which starts initially when you panic or have anticipatory anxiety of public places. The disorder emphasizes abnormal fear because this disorder is not about fearing what can indeed hurt you.

Most people can relate to anxiety about public spaces because we’ve been afraid of both death and permanent disability from COVID-19. Phobias don’t form around realistic fears. Having anxiety about a genuine risk to your life and health is healthy, normal, and keeps us above ground.

What most people are struggling with is having had to adjust to never leaving home and now we’re adjusting to going back out into the world. Going out into the world now feels as weird and difficult as staying home felt when the pandemic began.

All of us are like toddlers in that we prefer what we are familiar with. Habits and routines are to adults what naps and graham cracker snacks are to little people. We didn’t naturally love remote work and grocery delivery, but we’re now accustomed to it.

The idea of masking up and returning to our office, grocery stores, and even dining out seems fraught with hidden dangers. Add to our anxiety all the medical uncertainty about COVID variants or vaccine fears and it makes sense we’re struggling.

More advice: When your get-up-and-go has got up and gone

To effectively go back out into the world, the obvious first step is make sure you are fully vaccinated, second step is still mask up, and third step is start small. A courageous short trip to your favorite grocery store might be your first move. Having one or two vaccinated friends over is another option. Lastly, consider making a half-day visit back to your office.

Few of us are tempted to return to a packed stadium, public event, or concert. Many of us would like to safely and slowly rejoin the human race.

To give yourself a pep talk, make a list on paper or verbally with a friend about the things you’ve missed as you’ve sheltered at home. Highlight the activities that are low risk and high reward. Make a goal of doing one of these adventures each week to explore your experience.

Fear feeds on lack of data and lack of experience. You’re in control of obtaining as much data as you can about the real medical risk of venturing into the world and providing yourself with real world experience on what the new world is like for you. When the pandemic started, who among us thought returning to normal would be our next courageous adventure?

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s “Workplace Guru” each Monday morning. She’s the author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.

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