A recent poll done by ROKK solutions found 65 percent of Americans agreed it’s awkward to decide whether or not to shake hands when in public. Even individuals who may have been more outgoing before the pandemic find it a little awkward now.
So, what’s causing this new awkwardness in so many Americans? Dr. Thea Gallagher from UPenn Medicine sat down with Delaware Valley Journal to weigh in.
“I think because we didn’t [shake hands or hug] for 14 to 16 months now so I think that plays a role,” Gallagher said. “And because we really did get out of the habit of it. So, now it’s kind of like, ‘Do we do it? Or do we not do it?’ I also think people don’t want to make somebody else feel uncomfortable. What’s their comfort level? What do they want to do?”
This feeling of making others uncomfortable seems to be the source of hesitation to touch hands, according to the general opinion of many around the country.
“I am hesitant because I don’t know how the other person feels. I am a hugger and don’t mind shaking hands. With friends and family everything is back to normal,” said Sam Capoferri of Cherry Hill, N.J.
Sherri Torrance from Bridgeton, N.J., said, “I don’t feel awkward about it for myself, but I do worry about how the other person feels. I never go in first for a handshake or hug. I let the other person do what’s comfortable for them. We are all struggling with this in one way or another.”
Gallagher mentioned the way we interact with people now could stem from the data we were getting throughout the pandemic.
“The data does show that this virus was very much transmitted commonly through air, like respiratory air particles, which is why the masks were so important,” Gallagher said. “I think there’s been a lot of data to show that surfaces and things like that are much less likely.”
When asked if this awkwardness is more of an anxiety, Gallagher said that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.
“It’s a spectrum. For all of us, there was a level of awkwardness. The awkwardness comes out when you haven’t done something for a while; it feels awkward, right?” she said. “What I’ve been telling people, and what a lot of people have noticed is that once you go back and do something, it’s kind of like riding a bike. I think if you go out to do that or you’re trying to do that and it feels really difficult or if you’re making a lot of excuses for why you can’t go or why you can’t do something then you’re probably closer to the social anxiety where fear is making your decisions for you.”
Under normal circumstances, things don’t usually stay awkward for long. Handshakes, hugs, and regular human contact were part of everyday life before the pandemic.
“The way we’ve lived life for many, many years is going to come back to us,” said Gallagher.
So, what is society supposed to do for those who may be feeling more awkward than others? Gallagher warns that we need to be careful when making certain adjustments to our day-to-day lives.
“What are you catering to? Are we catering to anxiety? How long is it going to take us? Again, getting back to socializing and real-life and working our way up to things is important and we have to kind of start doing it. Just making sure we’re not tiptoeing around our fear or adjusting our life to a next level germaphobia or social anxiety.”
Vineland N.J. resident Jesse Nazario said that “when dealing with strangers, I apologize and state I don’t shake hands due to COVID-19. Most people understand personal boundaries when you reasonably explain it to them.”
Gallagher also mentioned social anxiety would only worsen if individuals who suffer from it don’t push themselves to do more social things.
“One thing that we’ve seen is an uptick in depression and anxiety over this last year and I think one of the factors is we know from data that we need social support,” she said. “We need community. We need places to celebrate and breathe…Now that more of us are going to be working from home, we’re going to have to be really intentional about making sure we are having those social outlets because that really is a huge part of us being human. Human touch and connection are all extremely important parts of our lives. It’s important to start bringing them back into our lives in meaningful, consistent ways.”
One takeaway Gallagher wants people to remember is not letting the awkwardness of the situation be your driving force to living.
“Push yourself. Yeah, you’re going to feel awkward. That’s okay. That’s normal. Don’t look at that as a sign to avoid. We all feel awkward. Doesn’t everybody feel a little awkward? But you know, push yourself to do it again. That’s what exposure-based therapy is all about. Facing your fears and doing the things that you know you need to do for your health and wellness, even if they’re hard. And remember that it’s going to get easier the more you do it.”