Navigating Social Anxiety Post-Pandemic
Over the past two years, we have collectively moved through various waves of the pandemic consisting of quarantines, mask mandates, vaccinations, and a plethora of innovative solutions to keep people safe while also staying connected. As restrictions have gradually lessened, numerous people have started to resume daily activities and return to some sense of normalcy. Nevertheless, many have understandably been struggling to adjust back into society, particularly in terms of social gatherings and socialization. In fact, some individuals have started to experience symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder for the first time or have experienced an increase in previous symptoms.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder (sometimes referred to as Social Phobia) is a mental health disorder characterized by extreme fear and avoidance in social settings, difficulty talking to others and making friends, and fear of judgment or scrutinization that may lead to feelings of humiliation. While comfort levels in social situations can vastly differ based on personality and other factors like age, Social Anxiety Disorder is more intense than moderate nervousness that individuals may experience when in certain social situations such as giving a presentation or going on a first date. With this mental health condition, anxiety and fear results in avoidance that is disruptive to daily life and can impact a multitude of areas of life such as relationships, work, school, and other obligations or social needs. If you notice yourself avoiding common social situations, ruminating on the worst possible outcome of a potential social activity or event, or experiencing physical symptoms associated with social anxiety such as fast heart rate, trembling, gastrointestinal issues, rapid breathing, lightheadedness, and muscle tension, it’s possible you may be experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder.
Social Anxiety Risk Factors
Regardless of when someone develops Social Anxiety Disorder – as a child or teenager, in adulthood, or after a life event or trauma – there are risk factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of experiencing associated symptoms and developing the condition. Family history of Social Anxiety Disorder or inherited traits, having negative experiences in social situations and past environments, having a shy temperament, new social demands, having a condition that draws attention to oneself, or brain structural differences such as an overactive amygdala can all contribute to the development of Social Anxiety Disorder over time.
Newfound Social Anxiety
While many people experienced social anxiety prior to the pandemic, others are just now developing Social Anxiety Disorder after such a long period of isolation. One factor may be the constantly evolving social rules and norms that can make people feel out of control or uncertain. Communication has also been limited to technology and screens as well as behind masks, which may have contributed to people feeling out of practice of socializing and can reinforce any past tendencies to withdraw. Identifying that energy levels and anxiety within social situations have changed since the pandemic began can be jarring; however, healing is possible and treatment is available.
Coping with Social Anxiety
While Social Anxiety Disorder can create complications in relationships, work, school, and other domains, there are ways to cope with, manage, and treat symptoms to improve one’s quality of life. Social Anxiety Disorder can contribute to feelings of low self-esteem, difficulty with assertiveness, a lack of social skills, negative self-talk, isolation, lower achievement, relationships difficulties, substance use, and suicidality; therefore, it is imperative that those struggling seek care and receive the support they need and deserve. Along with the guidance of a mental health professional and other helpful resources, those dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder can start to explore the root of their fear in social situations by breaking down anxiety on deeper levels such as fear of abandonment, having difficulty with attachment, or feeling unworthy and unloved. Social Anxiety sufferers can also aim to befriend their anxiety and reframe anxiety through the lens of how it is trying to offer protection. Socialization can also be thought of as an experiment to decrease feelings of pressure and be able to check in with self before, during, and after social situations to notice any changes and use exposure to lessen overall anxiety overtime. Unhooking from anxious thoughts using cognitive defusion can also allow individuals to allow space for their thoughts and feelings without completely attaching to them as absolute truths. Those with Social Anxiety Disorder can also readjust their expectations around socializing, enjoy the balance of alone time that works for them, and work on other confidence building skills and exercises. Social Anxiety Disorder doesn’t have to disrupt your life forever. Remember to honor your needs, communicate those needs to others, practice patience with self, engage in radical acceptance, and set realistic goals. Reach out to Embrace Therapy today if you or someone you know needs support with social anxiety, and continue to check out our blog and social media pages for additional resources and updates.