Modern medicine sees you
Thanks to vaccines being available to most, restrictions are being lifted, and society is happily moving back to what it was before the pandemic. While many are ecstatic about this shift, others fear it. Those who relished in normalizing antisocial behavior are experiencing social anxiety jumping back into the mix of things. Reentering society can make everyday life extremely stressful and manifest physically through sweating, panic attacks, and heart palpitations.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a condition that causes extreme levels of fear in social settings. There is a crippling fear associated with meeting new people, attending events or group gatherings, and communicating with others. Most often, fear of being judged or scrutinized by others is a leading symptom of SAD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 15 million American adults have a social anxiety disorder. This number has risen since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overcoming social anxiety
If you are experiencing social anxiety symptoms as the world returns to normal, you are not alone. Many are having difficulty approaching society after a long period of isolation. What you are feeling is normal. Go at your own pace and remember to honor who and where you are in your process. All your feelings are valid.
Here are 4 ways to help you cope with social anxiety:
- Focus on the present
Ask yourself what you can experience now. Often anxiety comes from over-thinking about the past or future. Relish in the moment. Noticing your breath, what you smell, and what you see are effective ways to ground yourself in the present moment.
- Write down your thoughts
Writing down your thoughts and feelings on paper or an app to clarify what is happening inside your head is therapeutic and can quell worries through healthily releasing them.
Discussing your thoughts and feelings with a mental health professional can be a great asset to processing and arriving at a new healthy space regarding anxieties. Excellent therapy can fast-track you to a healthier mentality with thoughtful guidance and support. There is no shame in getting professional help when you need it!
- Find a connection
Remember to call close friends and family members, cuddle with pets, and refamiliarize yourself with some of your favorite places in nature. Sharing with other like-minded friends (even online friends) can make you feel less alone. Find your community on social media and discuss your experiences and feelings. It can help you feel a connection in a safe environment.
Meditation for social anxiety
Meditation reduces symptoms of social anxiety and overall stress. There are specific mindful meditation practices, such as vipassana or insight meditation, that are notably beneficial. This practice can be done daily and is especially useful to be more in tune with oneself and create inner peace and stability. For more information on developing a meditation practice check out “The Mind Illuminated.” Mindful meditation brings awareness to your emotions and thoughts without attachment or reaction. Observing your thoughts and feelings without association with them creates peace. In addition, practicing mindful meditation supports your nervous system if you feel overwhelmed with fear or worry about social situations. Remember, meditation is a practice of showing up and refocusing. One of the best things about it is that you can do it anywhere!
Here are some benefits to meditation as they pertain to social anxiety symptoms:
- Reduces stress: A mindfulness meditation brings the body back to homeostasis after stress increases cortisol levels
- Controls anxiety: One study reported that eight weeks of mindfulness meditation reduced anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder as well as improved stress-related coping mechanisms
- Promotes emotional health: Mindfulness meditation can improve your outlook on life and will help you reframe situations in a positive mindset
- Cultivates kindness: Mindful meditation generates kindness and compassion for others as well as for yourself
- Improves sleep: Meditation enables you to release tension and enhances peace of mind for more restful sleep
Take it slow
You set the pace of your own life. Though you may feel pressure to go to an event or party and be upbeat, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Instead, a slow reintroduction to who you are and what you find enjoyable can be the first step.
Here are 4 suggestions to make your adjustment go smoothly while honoring yourself:
- Take a walk outside with a friend
Fresh air allows the mind and body to relax. Getting your steps in for the day will boost your well-being too. It is a natural way to physically interact with someone you care about and to catch up on what is going on in their life.
- Say “yes” with discernment
Select social events that won’t overwhelm you or small events with limited people, such as a dinner with a few close friends. Push yourself to say “yes” to experiences. Get there early before many people arrive, and you can always leave when it gets too crowded.
- Treat yourself in public
Go to a gym, spa, movie theater, or park because being there is simultaneously solo and around other people. It is an integrative way to learn more about how you are feeling around others. Ask staff questions about the space or products or give compliments. Don’t do self-service check-out because you will miss out on small talk with the cashier.
- Try talking to ANYONE with zero expectations
Make a point to leave your house and talk to another human at least once a day, even if it’s just to the nearby café for a coffee. Even though you learned how to make a mean cup of coffee at home, go to the coffee shop. Speaking to the cashier and barista is an excellent way to practice interacting with others. Even simply holding the door open for a stranger is a small way of socializing after all this time of isolation.
The bottom line
While you are probably excited for a post-COVID world, there are ways to comfortably readjust to your new social life if you are experiencing social anxiety. No matter what, it is essential to remember that you are resilient against whatever life throws your way. It is vital to note how you feel because you are not a robot, and life is not linear. In these confusing times, it is helpful to surround yourself with people and environments that support and empower you to take on the new world. Don’t let anxiety stop you from enjoying the summer of 2021 and beyond. Do your best to make progress in any way that encourages your growth, and always remember that you are not alone.
- Thompson C, Mancebo MC, Moitra E. Changes in social anxiety symptoms and loneliness after increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatry Res. 2021;298:113834. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2021.113834
- Legg, T. (2018. September 3) What is social anxiety disorder?
- Creswell JD, Pacilio LE, Lindsay EK, Brown KW. Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014;44:1-12. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.007
- Thrope, M (2020. October 27) 12 science based benefits of mediation