Even before 2020, the year we began to shelter-in-place and socially isolate, social anxiety was one of the most common mental disorders that people experienced. Today, after almost a year of staying home and with far fewer social interactions than ever before, many more people than ever are nervous about interacting with others.
What is social anxiety?
Many people experience social anxiety disorder to varying degrees. It is a psychological condition that affects someone’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. It affects how you interact with others and make decisions in your day-to-day life.
Social anxiety will look and feel different for each person. Symptoms can include hyper-focused concentration on self during social encounters; feeling like a spotlight is illuminating your every move and all eyes are on you. Another symptom can be extreme worry about what other people are thinking about you, which can show up before, during, or after the actual in-person interaction. In general, for someone with social anxiety, interacting with others creates more dread and worry than excitement and joy.
How isolation increases social anxiety.
Right now, at the start of 2021, the world culture is in a unique and unprecedented place. After ten months of shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing, the emergence of a COVID-19 vaccination is presenting many with the opportunity to return to work. Although some people feel excitement at the prospect of seeing friends and co-workers once again, many are simultaneously experiencing fear and anxiety about re-entry into the “real world”.
This fear and “back-to-work anxiety” are completely natural. For those who are elderly or have an autoimmune condition, or have close friends or family members who do, you may feel worried about your co-workers’ COVID-19 safety and hygiene. You might also be dreading social interactions after almost a year of isolation. After all, none of us have put our social skills to much use over this past year. It could be you’ve gotten so used to being alone, or only seeing your close quarantine crew, that being around other people now feels extremely uncomfortable and you worry you have lost all of your “friend skills”. For those who had some form of social anxiety before this pandemic, it’s no surprise that the idea of interacting with other people again after ten months of almost no social exposure feels uncomfortable.
At the same time, you might also be experiencing excitement and relief to finally be going back out into the world, to see your friends and family, and to have in-person social interactions once more. You’ve missed birthday parties, workout classes, cultural events, and gathering for holidays. If this is you, know that the confusion and contradiction of your emotions at this time are understandable; we are in uncharted waters.
Therapy to treat anxiety.
Therapy is a fantastic resource for anybody who is experiencing anxiety. For those with social anxiety specifically, therapy is great because it helps you gain the perspective that you aren’t alone. A lot of people feel uncomfortable in social situations, especially at this moment in time.
A therapist will guide you through exposure therapy, helping you set small goals that you can accomplish daily. For example, going for a walk around the block or meeting a friend for a (socially-distanced) coffee. Gradually, you will be able to increase your goals until you feel more comfortable going out in public and out into the world.
Although a small amount of nervousness about re-entry after coronavirus is natural, if and when your anxiety starts to interfere with your ability to function and live your life, it is time to seek outside help. A therapist is someone who can support you during the transition back to the office or workspace, teaching you tools and techniques for emotional regulation, and working with you to manage anxiety attacks and mental spiraling.
Five things to remember about social anxiety.
- You’re not alone, a lot of people experience anxiety in social situations.
- Take it slow. Start with a slow re-entry into your workplace, then begin seeing close friends and family.
- This too shall pass. Although your first few social encounters after social distancing might feel uncomfortable, you may get used to it sooner than you think.
- Anticipation is often worse than the real thing.
- Humans are adaptable. A year ago none of us would have believed what 2020 would hold, but here we are.
Whether you have an actual social anxiety disorder or have just have gotten used to working at home and feel nervous about readjusting to life in the office again, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help. It’s always best to seek help sooner rather than later and online, in-person, individual, couples, and group therapy are all readily available right now. Get ahead of your anxiety and feel empowered to live your life.
The Relationship Place Counseling and Therapy, in San Diego, California is here to support you in all the ways during this transition time. Contact us today to learn more about effective anxiety treatment or to schedule your first appointment with one of our fantastic and highly trained therapists.