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Overcoming social anxiety to resume a crowded life

A Cleveland Clinic psychologist gives advice on how to reduce anxiety and rejoin the crowds.

CLEVELAND — While many are excited about Ohio lifting the health orders, it may have others feeling anxious or stressed.

RELATED: Ohio lifts COVID health orders: What the changes mean for you

“If it takes awhile to acclimate, that is to be expected,” says Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

It’s been 14 long months since people have been in large crows, like baseball games. But now the pod seating is gone and masks are optional at places like Progressive Field.

“The excitement is as a high level right now as we anticipate getting fans back here at full capacity,” says Curtis Danburg, Cleveland Indians VP of Communications and Community Impact. “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”

Even as many are thrilled to de-mask and resume a crowded day to day life, others aren’t quite sure how to dive right back into the pool of people. In fact, a new study by the National Library of Medicine found that social anxiety has increased among Americans during the pandemic.

"One thing that can be helpful is using imagery,” says Dr. Albers. “Imagery is very helpful in reducing our anxieties. So, before you venture out into some of these social situations, close your eyes and walk through the event in your mind. This is going to help you to acclimate and imagine some challenges that you might face."

Dr. Albers says if you’re still nervous, it’s okay to mask up in crowds if it makes you feel safer. Also make sure to have an exit route planned and try preparing your body while easing your mind a little before you leave.

“Before you go to a large event, you can also boost your vitamin C level and your vitamin D,” says Albers. “These are vitamins that are going to help to boost your immune system and this is something that is just going to help you feel safer before you venture out into large crowds.”

The important thing is to not rush if you’re not ready. However, when you feel you are ready, Dr. Albers says to start small.

“Start with events that are with close friends instead of going to large gatherings of people you don’t know,” says Dr. Albers. “Ease into it.”

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