Originally published in Irish Country Living.
For some people, coming out of lockdown has been a blessing, and for others, it’s been a curse. The thoughts of having to socialise after the best part of 18 months in isolation is daunting for most. But for anyone with social anxiety, it’s terrifying.
And it’s not just the introverts or homebodies experiencing social anxiety; a lot of us are experiencing it for the first time. Our homes were the safest place to be for the last year; it’s how we protected our families and ourselves. And leaving that safety is both exciting and scary.
So what is social anxiety? Social anxiety is a fear that there is something wrong with us and that it will be revealed when we are in social situations. When it is revealed, it will lead to embarrassment or humiliation. It may be insecurities around our social skills, personality or appearance. You may replay conversations in your head, looking for mistakes in what you said. Or you may worry that you come across as boring, uninteresting or unlikeable in conversations. Or you talked too much, or not enough. Or you may go home and feel upset about how you looked.
But with COVID, we have the added fear that something terrible will happen in social situations, like getting sick or other people not following pandemic safety rules. These are fair and reasonable fears, but it’s how they impact us personally that creates that anxiety.
It is normal to feel some nervousness or anxiety about socialising again. Social anxiety can be more subtle; it could be a heavy feeling in your stomach, tightness in your chest, sweating or shaking, or a tight throat. Or it may be more evident, like panic attacks.
Here are three tips on how to deal with social anxiety and help you get back to normal:
1, There’s no rush
Ease yourself back into social situations. Start with the most comfortable options for you, like spending time in small groups with the people you are closest to. You don’t need to rush into an overwhelming social situation with a large group of people, especially if you don’t know everyone.
You might start by having family or a small group of friends over for dinner. Or choose your closest friend to go for a walk. Give yourself a chance to ease back into normality.
2. Listen to your thoughts
It’s normal to overthink social interactions or feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts about socialising. The thoughts can be very fearful around what might happen, worst-case scenarios or thoughts about what people may think of you after not seeing you for so long.
Rather than letting the negative thoughts spin out of control, make a note of them in a notebook or journal and ask yourself is this thought true? You’ll be amazed at how many of them are unnecessary, fearful thoughts. And that gives you the power to upgrade them to something more positive, which will reduce your social anxiety and build your confidence back up.
3. It’s ok to be rusty
A big part of social anxiety for people is around knowing how to interact with others. Let’s face it; we’re all a little rusty. Our everyday greetings, the hug and the handshake, are no more, so how do we even say hello! Knowing what to say and how to handle awkward pauses are bigger deals for anyone with social anxiety.
So rather than going for coffee, food or a drink where the conversation is the main focus, do an activity. Go for a walk, golf, swimming or any activity that takes some of the focus off the conversation or gives you a conversation point. And if you really want to feel comfortable, choose an activity you love and are good at.
There’s so much help out there for anyone with social anxiety. From counselling to coaching you have endless options, and you don’t have to figure it out on your own. Go easy on yourself. Everyone handles social situations differently.
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