The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

It’s OK to stay far from the madding crowd

Not everyone wants to dive back in to a busy social life. The secret is to ease back in gently, says Katie Russell Pause for thought

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From Monday, our social calendars will once more begin to fill up as pubs and restaurant­s reopen (albeit with outdoor seating only). As someone who has had her fair share of walks and picnics, I can’t wait to go for a pint with my friends.

Despite feeling nervous about indoor venues reopening from May 17, I feel comfortabl­e sitting in beer gardens, as the risk of Covid transmissi­on is reduced outdoors. More than anything, I’m excited that my paper calendar, which has been empty for so long, is finally starting to fill up.

But not everyone is looking forward to their flurry of invitation­s. Before the pandemic, Bethany Russell, 25, was a social butterfly who “hardly ever had any weekends at home”. However, since March last year, she has been isolating with her boyfriend in their home in Birmingham. She is clinically vulnerable, so has already had her first vaccine but she says she will not feel comfortabl­e meeting up in a group of friends until she has had her second dose in July.

“Because it’s been so long, I feel like I’ve completely changed the way I live,” she tells me over the phone. She and her boyfriend use click and collect for their shopping now and, aside from Russell’s mum, who is in their support bubble, they haven’t met up with anyone since late February 2020.

“We’ve been so confined to one space that I’m going to find it quite

‘People have a problem saying no. The fear is “I won’t be asked again”, but it’s OK to say no’

overwhelmi­ng being somewhere else – being around people, noise. Everything is going to be quite a lot to deal with,” Russell says.

Undoubtedl­y, she is not the only one who feels this way. “It’s going to be quite split,” says Dr Sheri Jacobson, clinical director at Harley Therapy. “Some people are itching to get back to seeing people in the flesh and others are quite nervous and apprehensi­ve about seeing people again.”

Many are experienci­ng “re-entry anxiety”, according to Dr Jacobson – a fear of re-entering society. From an evolutiona­ry standpoint, it makes sense. “As humans we’re very habitformi­ng creatures so we’ve got into a new routine,” she says.

“A lot of people are settled in it, so the next change that is upon us is going back to our usual way of interactin­g, but it’s coming across as a form of change – and that is often very unsettling for most of us; we don’t like novelty. We like the path that’s been well-trodden.”

That doesn’t mean you should say “no” to anything that scares you. Dr Jacobson says you should think about why you want to say no to an event – if it’s fear-based, it could be worth tackling that fear if there will be a reward at the end.

“If the ‘no’ ultimately harms you and you miss out, maybe the work should be done to try and get yourself to go,” she says. For instance, if you are agoraphobi­c and feel scared about going to a friend’s wedding, it might be better to face up to that fear than to miss out on supporting your friend on their big day.

However, if you simply have no desire to go to an event – or if you’re feeling overwhelme­d by plans and want to factor in some “me time”, it could be better to turn down certain invitation­s.

Healthy friendship­s and relationsh­ips rely on setting boundaries. Saying yes to every invite because you don’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings is a form of people-pleasing – which can damage your self-esteem. “If you keep agreeing to things that you’re not comfortabl­e with, it is signalling that your needs are not as important as other people’s,” Dr Jacobson says.

This can make you feel resentful or frustrated towards your friend – and, even if you push these feelings down, they could resurface and cause friction in the relationsh­ip at a later date.

Saying no, then, can benefit both yourself and your friendship­s in the long run. It’s not something many of

HOW TO SAY NO

us feel comfortabl­e with doing, however. Saying no can be nerve-racking. “We feel like underneath the no is ‘I don’t want to hang out with you’, ‘I don’t want to see you’ or ‘you’re not good enough to bring me out of my house’,” Russell says, “whereas we should have this idea that ‘no’ can also mean ‘not now’.” While Russell says she is nervous about turning down invitation­s (“It’s not really in my nature to be like ‘no, thank you’”) she says she knows her friends will understand.

“None of my friends would ever pressure me to do anything,” she says.

In most situations, friends will be understand­ing if you want to turn down an invitation.

“People have such a problem saying no,” according to psychother­apist Jennie Miller. “The fear is ‘I won’t be asked again’ or ‘What will other people think of me?’ but actually it’s OK to say no,” Miller says. “And people respect it.”

 ??  ?? Bethany Russell is cautious about re-entering society again after a year of lockdowns
Bethany Russell is cautious about re-entering society again after a year of lockdowns
 ??  ?? The thought of returning to busy social situations will be alarming for many people
The thought of returning to busy social situations will be alarming for many people
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