On Mental Health, Social Distancing Diaries

The Anxiety Of Changing Social Norms

Back in the olden days of pre-COVID19, I loved a good routine because it meant no anxieties over “new” anything. I ordered the same dish at my favorite restaurants. I shopped at the same time at my regular grocery stores because I knew what to expect in terms of crowds and staff. I got everywhere early so I didn’t have to worry about if I couldn’t find the place or if there’s some protocol I wasn’t expecting in terms of parking or entrance or location. Pre-pandemic I had all of these social habits that kept my anxiety at bay so that I could leave the house do all of the things required of me to keep my family functioning and our obligations met.

Not only is my general anxiety up with fears of health and economics and politics and educating my children and everything that everyone else is feeling…I’m experiencing a lot of extreme social anxieties in this new world.

Social anxieties have always been some of the more acute portions of my generalized anxiety disorder. Most of my panic attacks happen from social stimuli. This is why I did depend on routine so much before. But now? All of my previously tried and tested routines are useless.

I don’t want/need to get to doctor’s appointments early because we’re all just sitting in our car anyway and all doctors are trying to time everyone showing up at exactly the right time to minimize crowds in waiting rooms. I take my Mom to dialysis three times a week and I can’t help getting there at least a few minutes early and she HATES sitting there and waiting but it just goes against my nature to leave her apartment with the EXACT right amount of time because WHAT IF THERE IS A WRECK? So I have these dueling anxieties going on about social norms from my past versus the changed ones now and it makes everything SO MUCH WORSE.

And don’t even get me started about these new arrows at the grocery store telling me which direction to walk now. I like to get in and out of the store as fast as possible but this has slowed me down so much because I’m constantly having to circle back around when I realized I missed something and the extra anxiety means I’m scatter-brained (I really have trouble focusing when I’m anxious) and so I forget more things which doubles the outing entirely.

I have yet to figure out “busy” times at the store anymore. There seems to be no predictable pattern.

And if I pull into the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and see more than a certain amount of cars there, I won’t bring in my reusable bags because I know I’ll have to go to a cashier instead of self checkout and they don’t want your grungy bags from home anywhere near their plexiglass barriers.

Speaking of that “Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market” – it used to be my least favorite place to go because it was the furthest from home but it’s my favorite now because it’s small (No SUPER in the title) and it only has food so everyone is there for necessities and so 95% of the people are wearing masks and focused on getting out of there QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY.

Even with the arrows.

At Target, I’ll bring my bags because they don’t pull you from the self checkout into a normal lane, but I hate going to Target anymore because it just feels like there’s more people milling around actually “shopping” – browsing sunglasses and clothes AND THOSE PEOPLE MAKE ME NERVOUS. I am there for necessities and then I’m gone. There are too many people at Target are walking around without masks like they’re just killing time and my previously favorite store is now my least favorite.

I’ve had panic attacks at coughing in public. It’s allergy season and I do have this annoying cough and I had one bought of bad coughing recently in a weird situation where I suddenly found myself surrounded by more people than I intended and I kid you not – I am still having nightmares about it.

There are so many NEW situations I still haven’t figured out yet. When I do curbside at some places they want me to “pop my trunk” but I don’t have a trunk! Do I just leave my window rolled down? What is the way THEY prefer and what is the way I *should* prefer? When I get my bread from the local bakery they have this table with everyone’s orders spread out and labeled. The sign says “One at a time” inside so you can go grab your bread off the table but you could also call for curbside. What is better for them? What is better for me?

I went to a farmer’s market this weekend for the first time and they had a good setup with lanes and arrows and limits and I never felt cramped or anything and everyone had masks and gloves but I was SO NERVOUS AND TERRIFIED THE WHOLE TIME. Luckily, the girl running the place was super lovely and charming and silly and she put me right at ease. I was there for strawberries from a big farm who had their own line but I wasn’t sure if I need to get back in the main line for the rest of the farmers and she said, “We count you guys in the total so once you’re in you’re free to keep going…well…you know *laugh*…”free” as you can be maintain good social distancing.”

That’s the other thing. Humor REALLY puts me at ease but does it help everyone? Do people think I’m not taking it seriously if I also laugh in those moments? Normally my laughter is one of my weapons against my social anxieties. If I can laugh at someone else’s joke it makes us all feel better but if I laugh now does that make other people anxious?

It’s like the decades armor and weapons I’ve built to fight my social anxieties are now useless. They were all electronic and there was a big EMP in the form of a coronavirus and so I have to basically just head at my anxieties with no protection or weapons as I figure out this new battlefield.


2 thoughts on “The Anxiety Of Changing Social Norms”

  1. COVID-19 anxiety is relatable for many, and we all have different reasons for experiencing anxiety during the pandemic. As for me, I’m experiencing anxiety over the doomsday predictions I’m hearing regularly in my home. Potential economic ruin, food shortages, increased crime rate as unemployment skyrockets. We’re literally stocking up on everything, and the thought of it is terrifying me. I break out in sweats every time I hear we may be in a trade and barter economy one day.

    Laughter is good and probably relaxes those around you. Laughter is medicine, and I’m serious by nature 99% of the time, so I appreciate people who are able to be funny during a pandemic.

  2. The directional arrows at the grocery store give me so much anxiety! I keep forgetting which way I’m going and turning around in the middle of the aisle.

    I also cough due to allergies and worry people will think I’m sick when I’m not.

    I hope you find new coping mechanisms that help you deal with this new reality.

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