There are several considerations to keep track of for a person who is dealing with social anxiety. From how to ensure consistent performance in the workplace, to managing the complicated ins and outs of personal relationships, to the pressures that can come from everyday demands and responsibilities, there are multitudes of things to balance.
Then COVID came. Suddenly, society’s rulebook as a whole was thrown for a loop and people had no choice but to figure out new ways to do many of the things they used to take for granted. In many ways, quarantine life is nothing like the lifestyles that most people were used to maintaining. One can only imagine the struggles that could come with having an active anxiety disorder during these types of circumstances. As opposed to rotating between the various settings that the average person finds themselves spreading their time between, the last year and some change has required a lot of staying in the same place. Now, sources seem to be prepping people to rejoin the public and essentially return to the “normal” grind.
So now what?
More specifically, what does this mean for people with anxiety disorders, and how easily can they expect to return to what average society considers to be “normalcy”?
Healthline shares a collection of tips that can help those with social anxiety who may be genuinely troubled about the prospect of being around an ongoing flow of people again. This may be especially stressful since we have all been in our own living spaces for the last year, and have had the pandemic to blame when choosing not to connect with too many other people. So, these tips are meant to make the transition back into constant social interaction that much easier.
For one, a person can start by making what are called incremental changes. This means that instead of running full speed into an enormous crowd of busy city goers like The Flash, a person can take it slow by planning small outings where one is sure to feel comfortable. This could be a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood, or a quick visit to the convenient store right next door to retrieve a favorite snack. In fact, that treat can be looked at as a prize for taking important steps towards reassimilating in the healthiest fashion. Using this method, exposure to the outside can be gradually increased, until the person feels good about being around substantial amounts of people without having negative effects of their anxiety triggered so readily (1).
Secondly, it is important for people with anxiety disorders to clearly communicate boundaries with others that will make them feel safe and secure when it’s time to engage in interactive activities. This is of course most applicable when dealing with a close friend, confidant, or relative, or at least someone who offers a bond of trust. Boundaries can be openly set regarding where to meet, and whatever conditions that are reasonable to satisfy and can facilitate a healthy environment that a person would likely not feel anxious in (1). This approach is helpful because it gives someone with an anxiety disorder the chance to be in a public social setting while feeling a strong sense of security from their boundaries being met, which can do wonders for building their ability to fully reassimilate into society at large, of course when they are ready to.
A third technique a person can use before reentering their previous publicly occupied spaces like work or school is to visit those locations beforehand, prior to returning to working onsite, or attending school on campus like they used to before quarantine. Being in those physical spaces without facing the demands of work or class can reduce a significant degree of anxiety about being in those places again. This can take away the suspense of going back to work or school on the first day, which could otherwise be reason for an immense level of anxiety if handled wrong.
Once their public interaction increases, a person with anxiety disorder will benefit from having several more techniques at their disposal, in case they run into unexpected difficulties or trip-ups. VeryWellMind shares the following coping strategies:
– Identify things that are triggers and have a plan for what to do.
– Visualize a calming place, like the park or the beach.
– Practice deep breathing exercises.
– Practice mindfulness or meditation techniques.
– Use thought records to turn anxious thoughts into positive coping statements.
– Attend an online yoga class to reduce anxiety & get used to being in groups.
– Go for meditative walks to clear your mind.
– Write down worries, place them in a box, and stop thinking about them.
– Watch funny shows or use a mental health app.
– Rely on pets for emotional support to ease anxiety or anxious feelings.
– Keep a gratitude journal and write an entry in it every day (2).
Overall, it can be very intense for anybody to go from fourteen months or so of living in the unusual settings that quarantine has brought about to going right back into the world outside as it operates in full swing. For people with social anxiety disorders, it is of the utmost importance to employ patience and preparation to bring about the best results possible. There is no reason to rush, and those with anxiety should instead refrain from self-judgment and take as much time as they can to properly readjust. The choice to stay conscious of the points brought up here can be very useful for helping people in this position feel safe in their actions to rejoin the flow of modern society.
- Mayer, B.A., & Juby, B. (2021). Why You May Feel Anxious About a Post-Pandemic Return to ‘Normal’. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/why-you-may-feel-anxious-about-a-post-pandemic-return-to-normal#trauma.
- Cuncic, A. (2021). Adapting to Post-Pandemic Reality When You Have Social Anxiety. VeryWellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-adapt-to-post-pandemic-reality-with-social-anxiety-5180281.