As a person who experiences social anxiety, you may have actually been relieved at stay-at-home orders or social distancing mandates that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Staying home means fewer social situations that could induce anxiety, stress, and fear. You’ve been able to stay at home and not feel guilty about missing out on parties, events with friends, or awkward family get-togethers. Overall, while others have been missing the ability to leave home and hang out with other people, you may have been happy to be at home more.
Downsides of Social Isolation
While it’s perfectly acceptable to avoid some social situation that may make you particularly anxious, it’s not healthy in the long run to stay completely isolated. Cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the common treatments for social anxiety, encourages gradual exposure to social situations in a way that lets you face some of your worries and fears. Staying completely isolated can lead to even worse anxiety in the long run since you miss out on opportunities to challenge your beliefs and fears and work to overcome them.
Dealing with a New Virus
Another aspect of this pandemic is the worries and fears you may face about the novel coronavirus itself, about getting sick or transmitting the illness to others. You likely feel judged every time you go out in public. If you don’t wear a mask, some may look down on you or call you selfish and rude. If you do wear a mask, others may roll their eyes and think you’re overreacting.
The fact of the matter is that there’s not enough solid evidence on how the virus is spread to make sure everyone is on the same page about how best to prevent the spread of the disease. Until everyone can agree on how dangerous it is and how exactly it spreads, there will always be people who judge your response to it. Remember that this has absolutely nothing to do with you. It’s most important to make sure you feel safe and healthy, no matter how others look at you and judge your actions.
Use Available Opportunities
Your job may have been moved to a virtual space, which could involve its own anxiety-inducing situations if you’ve had to interact on video or over the phone. This can be a good opportunity for you to maintain some social contract though, so use it as an opportunity, even if you need to ask your boss to make some adjustments, like letting you do meetings in smaller groups or just with your immediate supervisor.
You can also take this opportunity to interact distantly with loved ones. You may write cards, set up video calls with family, or stay active on social media. Also be sure that you are taking care of your physical health, which has a direct positive effect on your mental health.
What Does the Future Hold?
Returning to a more “normal” existence is going to take time, and this is good news for you. Many areas of the world are reintegrating slowly, giving you the opportunity to begin going to public and social events little by little. Don’t feel like you need to go to any events that make you feel like you’re risking your health or the health of your family members. This is an added stress on top of social anxiety that you don’t need to deal with. Do, though, reintegrate as you feel comfortable, to let yourself feel like you are managing your anxiety in healthy ways.
We hearing from you. Has the pandemic changed how you deal with social anxiety? Let us know in the comments!