As lockdown eases and social restrictions are relaxed, many people will be busy making plans to book some much-needed time with friends after months of isolation. For some, this newfound freedom can't come soon enough. But for many, the idea of going back to speaking with others and meeting new people is triggering feelings of apprehension and anxiety.
During the pandemic, we’ve been encouraged to shift our behaviour so that we actively avoid others and limit physical contact with friends and family. We’ve become so used to sitting behind screens, with limited face-to-face interaction, that it’s likely that many of us will re-enter social situations feeling out of practice. For people with a social anxiety disorder, these feelings will likely be more extreme, prompting high levels of worry before, during and after social interactions.
As we gradually return to a more ‘exposed’ way of living, it will be tempting for those feeling anxious to completely avoid social situations and it’s important for those with social anxiety to take steps to manage their heightened feelings of unease.
If you’re feeling anxious about socialising as lockdown is relaxed, you’re not alone. Here are just a few ways to make the transition more comfortable.
This situation has been very difficult for everybody - even more so if you have social anxiety. Remember that you’re not alone and lots of people are experiencing this. Practice relaxation before any scheduled social event and take some deep breaths to get your oxygen levels back to where they normally would be.
People with social anxiety tend to focus on how they are perceived by others. This doesn't come from a narcissistic place - quite the opposite. It can almost feel like an inferiority complex, as if you’re lesser than others.
Let's say you have a friend's birthday to attend and you're feeling especially anxious about the possibilities of speaking and mixing with others. Think about the physical sensations you are experiencing; things like clenching your hands and feet, brain fog, profusive sweating – all of these are common symptoms of anxiety that are normal but need to be addressed.
First, try to get a handle on your breathing, tackle physical symptoms and the way you think about yourself. Become aware of what's holding you back from certain interactions. Is it a fear of rejection, for example? Whenever you start to feel anxious about a social interaction, ask yourself what is the worst that can happen? This kind of questioning can help you rationalise and calm your thoughts and fears. take some deep breaths to get your oxygen levels back to where they normally would be.
The more someone avoids socialising, the harder it is for them to re-adjust to socialisation. Social anxiety can perpetuate a negative thinking cycle – if you don’t expose yourself to your fear (talking to others, for example), that anxiety becomes worse. Practice talking to yourself in the mirror, or perhaps film yourself talking. Try talking to yourself about something you enjoy – perhaps your favourite memory of a holiday, or a hobby. Where possible, try and smile throughout.
When you're out, try to make eye contact with people on the street. Take small steps. Start by practising saying hello to the person at the supermarket check-out. We’re pre-wired to be social animals and it’s incredibly beneficial to talk to people and have these small interactions. Sometimes you have to throw yourself in the deep end to overcome the hardship of social anxiety. Social anxiety is difficult, and it takes time to manage, but with practice and the right support, you can re-wire your thinking patterns.
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