COMMENT:

The first couple of days of alert level 2 were pleasant enough. That first flat white sitting down at the cafe (after a bit of mucking around with QR codes to log that I exist and did, in fact, have that coffee at that location at that time) tasted almost magical.

But not all parts of the return to the "new normal" (are we all sick of this expression yet?) will be that full of wonder.

In fact, some parts of it will be downright dreadful.

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With many New Zealanders returning to the office on Monday, after weeks away, some will be experiencing some very justified anxiety about, once again, being out there doing things.

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The one silver lining of lockdown was that it eliminated the need to come up with excuses for not going out and doing things, when all we truly want to do is ... well, not do things. Suddenly, there was nothing to do. No one was hanging out without you anywhere and you didn't have to force yourself to do anything you didn't really feel like it just to soothe your anxious brain.

I mean ... I know there were a lot of bad things about lockdown but how good was it not having to go anywhere? How great to not have any expectations or outside pressure put on your time?

This lack of pressure was a luxury I wasn't ready to let go of.

In fact, in the past seven weeks, I discovered I actually quite like my own company. For real, I'm not too bad to hang out with.

Just as I was getting into the swing of it, it's over. I'm supposed to be out there again. Doing things. Or at the very least I'm supposed to come up with a good reason not to.

If you half want to go out, half miss the excuse not to have to go, you're not the only one. What we're experiencing is what is Alexis Swerdloff coined in New York Magazine as FOGO, or Fear of Going Out (as opposed to the old familiar FOMO - Fear of Missing Out). FOGO is not exclusive of the post-lockdown period but it sure threatens to thrive in it.

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Birthday celebrations, post-lockdown drinks, celebratory dinners. Slowly but surely your weekly planner - which had turned into nothing but a paperweight during lockdown - starts filling up again.

We want to make dinner plans and have a semblance of a social life again - we missed it. But we're all understandably worried.

Tools to help you manage your mental health through lockdown period.

As our world begins to expand outside our bubbles again, a new anxiety settles in.

I love my friends and want nothing more than to sit at a table with them in a cafe. But I know nothing about the people sitting next to us and I know the "team of 5 million" had a few rogues so you'll excuse if I'm a little reticent to put the guard down just yet.

It's also because of the new methods for this new madness. We have to sign in everywhere we go. We have to disinfect, to sanitise, to get close but stay away. I've got really bad spatial awareness and I'm not even truly sure what 2 metres even really look like. Well, I kind of sort of know - but it doesn't take much to get me confused about it. Do I wear a mask? Can we shake hands? So many questions, not that many answers.

It's not just about having to care about what you're wearing again or even worrying about trying to fit in our work pants again (although, that worry is very real). It's just that socialising - which used to be the easy part of our days - has now turned into a bit of a logistics nightmare. Remember the gloves, remember to pre-book, take a pen, log where you've been, who you've seen ... you haven't even had that first glass of wine and you're already exhausted.

Besos Latinos, a Latin American restaurant in Wynyard Quarter has seated mannequins at every second table to meet social distancing requirements under Cover 19 alert level 2. Video / Sylvie Whinray

For seven incredibly long weeks, we got the message hammered into our brains that the outside world was a scary place to be. That other people were nothing but a vehicle for the virus to get to you.

Now you're suddenly supposed to be okay with sharing your life with them again.

I'm not sure I'm ready. If I'm honest, drinking cheap quarantine wine in my sweatpants at 2pm on a Wednesday was not the absolute worst way to live.

For some of us, lockdown led us to discover that we actually quite like our own company a lot more than we thought we did. Photo / 123rf
For some of us, lockdown led us to discover that we actually quite like our own company a lot more than we thought we did. Photo / 123rf

Getting outside is suddenly an exercise in trusting others.

After seven weeks of this "trust nobody" attitude, some of us might find it a bit hard to immediately switch off the self-defense mechanism that has served us so well (that and the idea of having to put shoes on and commute again every damn day).

The problem with FOGO is that is a self-serving type of anxiety. The more you worry, the more you worry. And the more you worry about going out, the less you want to do it. This is no small issue: our anxiety affects our immune system and our ability to fight viruses and illnesses.

While a natural reaction to a really weird time, giving in to FOGO risks keeping us more isolated than it is helpful to be.

So how do you know where to draw the line?

Bad news if you've read this up until now hoping I'd give you that answer. I don't know and I'm kind of hoping you tell me.

All I know is that one of the greatest lessons of the pandemic is that nothing should be taken for granted. No hug, no coffee meet-up, not even our ability to leave the house safely.

It's important to find the line that means we don't turn into post-lockdown hermits and miss out on time with friends that we are clearly not guaranteed to have forever.

But the transition to the - all together now - "new normal" is not an easy one for everyone. Please be kind and patient with your FOGO-suffering friends. We'll go out again soon, eventually.

And for those people you realised you don't really need to see again, remember this: "I've got a bit of a sniffle" is the perfect excuse of the Covid-19 era.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website