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Social Anxiety After COVID

April 15, 2022

Social Anxiety After COVID

Are you noticing yourself feel less confident in social settings? This is a common experience for folks these days. Maybe you are finally returning to the office. That wedding finally got put on the calendar. Or maybe you are trying to get back out there and date. These typical social situations might be more nerve-wracking and overwhelming post-pandemic.

Returning to a sense of “normal” can be a joyous and celebrated thing but it can also be quite challenging. Change is hard and adjusting to a post-pandemic life has many people feeling more anxious. We have socially distanced, quarantined, and conducted much of our life remotely for two years now. Our worlds got a lot smaller. It has been an immensely difficult period of time for so many people. Although the glimpses of post-pandemic life are hopeful, we still have to confront the adverse effects the pandemic has had on our mental well-being. I know for myself, being around more people and making small-talk has felt taxing. I’ve noticed having more feelings of nervousness and self-doubt before entering a social setting. Many people are experiencing the difficulties of socializing in a post-pandemic life. You’re not alone. You have been through a lot. For many of us, we have gotten out of practice with how to be around people.

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder is the experiencing of fear or anxiety in one or more social situations. You may have symptoms of social anxiety if: 

  • You are afraid being noticed, observed, rejected and/or judged
  • You are afraid of showing that you are nervous/anxious.
  • You know that you fear or anxiety is irrational.
  • Social situations are intensely painful for you or you avoid it completely.
  • The anxiety or avoidance causes stress and negatively impact your life.
  • The symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months.

Social Anxiety is Different from Shyness

People who are shy do not typically experience intense and out of control fear or anxiety in social situations. Or if they do, they are able to push through the initial discomfort and relax. Shyness does not cause someone psychological distress or lead to avoidance of social situations. People who are shy are still able to live normal lives. Someone who is experiencing social anxiety disorder may be outgoing and extroverted. You can’t always detect if someone is experiencing social anxiety. Since shyness is more of a personality trait, it can often be observed.

Did the Pandemic Give Me Social Anxiety?

It is likely that someone who experienced symptoms of social anxiety before the pandemic will have similar, if not more exacerbated symptoms, adjusting back to post-pandemic life. For others who have not experienced social anxiety in the past, the re-emerging into social life might still be difficult. You may have practiced your in-person social skills very much in two years. Just like working out, if we don’t go to the gym for two years, our muscles will get weaker. Our social muscles, in a sense, have atrophied during the pandemic.

​Our brains have been wired during the pandemic to perceive social situations as dangerous. After all, the message for the last couple of years has been to socially distance. Adjusting back to being around more people can feel like a shock to your nervous system. If the brain perceives a threat, it automatically sends your nervous system into fight, flight, or freeze. Re-entering a social setting, like your workplace, may be putting your nervous system on edge. Signs of this happening are:

  • a rapid heart rate
  • sweaty hands
  • shakiness
  • tension
  • fatigue
  • rapid thoughts or blankness
  • feeling overly stimulated

The beautiful thing about the human brain is that it is able to regenerate, learn new things, and adapt. This is called neuroplasticity. Our brains adapted to the pandemic in order to keep us safe. And they can once again, adapt and re-learn how to be in social settings.

Strategies to Support You as You Find Your Social Rhythm Again

Take Things at Your Own Pace

It’s okay to go slow. Don’t feel like you need to rush out and make plans every night of the week. Allow yourself to ease back into socializing and find your personal comfort zone. Take baby steps and challenge yourself in small, manageable, incremental ways. This can be done gently and slowly to allow for self-confidence to be built.

Identify Your Triggers

The social situations that trigger anxiety vary from person to person. For you it may be small groups or one-on-one situations, where as large crowds might be more anxiety provoking for someone else. Identify what type of social context you are experiencing difficultly in that way you can be more prepared.

Develop Healthy Coping Skills to Manage Social Anxiety

Deep breathing and other grounding skills can be helpful tools to use before, during, and after, social events. Utilizing positive self-talk to combat distorted thinking can also be very useful. Remind yourself that everyone else is probably feeling a little anxious as well. Working with a licensed therapist who specialize in anxiety treatment can be helpful in developing a more individual plan to your specific needs.

Reevaluate Your Social Needs

Just because you now have the opportunity to attend more social gatherings does not mean you have too. If you are more introverted, some aspects of the pandemic may have come as a reprieve. Social obligations were paired down or eliminated completely, freeing us up to focus on other pursuits. As you begin to add things back into your life, do so thoughtfully. Some helpful questions to ask yourself are; Is this good for me? Does this social situation/relationship bring me joy? Will I feel drained by this activity or recharged?

Seek Support

Feeling socially anxious is a normal human experience. Talk to someone you trust about your struggles so you don’t feel so alone. If your social anxiety is continuing to cause you distress and is getting in the way of you living your life, seek support from a licensed therapist.

Begin Anxiety Treatment in Seattle, WA

Have you tried to manage social anxiety on your own but have not found relief? Are you struggling to meet the social expectations of your work or feel drained from interacting with friends and family? Working with a skilled therapist who specializes in anxiety treatment can help you find the confidence that you need to re-engage in life after the pandemic. If what you read here resonates with you, contact us today to learn more about anxiety treatment with one of our excellent counselors. Schedule a 15-minute phone consultation for us to learn more about you and see if we are a good fit. 

Author

Julianna Fetner is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Thrive for the People. ​

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