HAMILTON, Ohio — Many people have experienced some form of anxiety about returning to pre-pandemic life, particularly being a part of a crowd. One Hamilton arcade owner offered to help one woman with social anxiety feel better about venturing out.
Lizz Held of Florence, Kentucky, said she suffers from social anxiety and has for quite some time.
“I liked that people were encouraged to stay farther away because a lot of people didn’t realize how close they were to other people,” she said.
Recently, a post she made on a popular Facebook group was met with a lot of negative comments.
“That was my first post,” Held said. “I was so excited to post and I just felt like I was met with more hatred than I was expecting.”
She posted again that her feelings were hurt and she was leaving the group.
“It was really a part of me stepping out of my shell and posting something on social media,” Held said. "It’s hard to do that and put yourself out there.”
That’s where Pinball Garage owner Brad Baker stepped in. He saw Held’s post and offered to open his business two hours early to let her enjoy the Hamilton arcade while the place was empty.
“I was just trying to turn a bad situation and maybe help a little bit if I could,” he said
Baker said this isn’t the first time he’s come across this situation: Many of his customers have had some hesitations.
“We get messages from people saying, ‘We’d love to come in, but how crowded are you at four o’clock?’” he said.
Clinical psychologist Ashley Solomon said while social anxiety is genetic, a lot of people can still experience re-entry anxiety, especially as the U.S. emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For some people, it’s a new experience for them to have those intense anxious feelings around going out and being in public and for others, they’ve always been a little bit hesitant but the lack of social engagement over this last year had just made it feel even more panic-inducing,” Solomon said.
Held said despite Baker’s offer, she plans to visit the Pinball Garage soon during regular hours.
“I want to come in and pay what everyone else is paying, and I’m going to come in during normal hours because I’m on that journey with myself,” she said.
Solomon suggested some strategies for people suffering with re-entry anxiety:
- Take it slow reintegrating into public life
- Bring a family member or friend you can trust
- Try a deep-breathing exercise if you start to feel overwhelmed.