Want to manage your social anxiety? In this blog post, we’ll explain what social anxiety is, how the pandemic has made it more prevalent and five tips to help cope with it.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety involves a fear that we possess some type of “flaw” that will be revealed in social situations and result in embarrassment or humiliation. We may have insecurities about our personality, social skills or appearance. This type of anxiety could give us the urge to opt out of social situations where the “flaw” might be exposed. With social anxiety, we may replay “mistakes” after conversations are over. Or we may worry that we come across as boring, weird or unlikable. Some of us may even use unhealthy coping strategies, like drinking, to get through an event.
COVID-19 Has Contributed to Social Anxiety
During our year at home, due to the pandemic, our socializing has been much less frequent. The pandemic itself gives us the opportunity to avoid social interactions and not address our anxieties. It makes sense that we are uneasy with others right now. Many of us are frazzled from the challenges of this time, and connecting with other is the last thing on our minds. We may have even gotten used to the extended break from our connections and can’t imagine what it would be like to socialize openly with many people again.
Even those who never previously experienced social anxiety, might be feeling nervous about interacting with others during this time. Understandably so. When we do venture out, we may find that we’re met with added stressors, like the possibility of getting sick, differing approaches to pandemic safety, or the awkwardness of masked communication. These are all fair concerns, but they don’t help if they add to an already existing anxiety we may have around socializing.
Tips to Manage Social Anxiety
If we don’t confront our social anxieties, they are likely to grow. Social anxiety is harmful because it can contribute to intense social fears that lead us to fully avoid situations. It can also reduce our positive emotions, hinder our achievements, fuel loneliness, and lead to larger issues, like substance abuse or depression.
We’re still a ways away from the world returning to “normal” social situations again. In the meantime, these tips can help with our current ways of socializing, whether that’s through a screen or in-person with a mask and socially distanced. We can also carry these tips with us once widespread socializing is more safe in-person after the pandemic is over.
1-Shift Your Attention to the Present Moment
We experience anxiety when we worry about the unknown. We worry about what “could” happen or what “could” go wrong. If you’re experiencing anxiety in a social situation, it’s okay to take a moment to readjust yourself and reset. Take some deep breaths and focus on the current moment. This can help us engage in our conversations more easily. When we focus our attention on the present and the person or people we’re interacting with, rather than what we think they are thinking about us, we are likely to be much less stressed.
2) Be Up-Front About Your Comfort Levels
Social anxiety escalates when we don’t navigate differences in expectations for a social interaction. During the pandemic, it’s especially important to be clear about your comfort levels when socializing with others. It can be scary to be assertive, but in the long run being up-front will put us more at ease during our actual moments of connection. Remember to also keep your boundaries in check. It’s okay to ask to keep a meeting brief or to reschedule if it’s not going to work out for you.
3) Move Away From Negative Thoughts
Next, focus on shifting away from negative thoughts. The next time your thoughts lead to negative assumptions, like “I’m not interesting,” try to consciously turn your mind back to the reality of the situation. Remember that we are more critical of ourselves than anyone else. We can recognize that everyone has moments of awkwardness, long pauses, or stumbling over words. It’s normal. Be kind to yourself in these situations.
4) Reach Out For Support
We don’t have to suffer from social anxiety alone. If you feel comfortable, reach out to talk about others about your hesitancies or anxieties. Or if you feel like your symptoms have escalated, you can always reach out to a therapist who can help provide more tools to manage social anxiety.
5) Take it Slow, Post-Pandemic
Lastly, ease into social situations slowly post-pandemic. You may feel yourself becoming overwhelmed when the world opens up again. But know that you don’t have to go to every event. Know what your limitations are and your purpose for attending things. Remember that nervous feelings will be normal, even for those without previous social anxiety. It may prove disorienting at first to enter into a social life after months of isolation, but we will all go through it together. Until then, stay safe with social interactions and refer back to these tips if they are helpful to you for any form of social anxiety.