How to manage social anxiety in a pandemic

Among its many impacts on mental health, the pandemic is driving an increase in social anxiety. Cognitive behavior therapist Jennifer Guttman, PsyD, writes for mindbodygreen that she is seeing a noticeable increase in social anxiety among her patients. Social anxiety is defined as “marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or possible scrutiny by others.” If you’re experiencing social anxiety, here are some tools from Guttman for coping with it. 

  1. Remind yourself of “normal.” Like any skill, if we don’t practice socialization for an extended period of time, we begin to lose this skill. Think about the social activities you enjoyed before the pandemic to remind yourself of the joy it brought you. Movies, tv shows, and books can be a great resource for escaping into a world of social interaction to remember our old “normal.”
  2. Create social imagery. To tackle social anxiety, use meditation and imagery to put yourself in social situations. Imagine these events and conversations while reminding yourself you are calm and in control. 
  3. Practice being around people. There are safe ways to practice socializing even in a pandemic. Visit a park and sit a safe distance from others or take a socially distanced walk with a friend. Even going to the grocery store can help you take control of social anxiety and experience some level of normalcy. 
  4. Participate in virtual events. Although it’s not quite the same as seeing friends in person, video calls are a great resource to stay connected and step out of your social comfort zone. When on video calls, with friends or for work, challenge yourself to keep your video on and speak up when something comes to mind. 
  5. Be consistent. A single trip to the grocery store can feel exhausting these days, but try and work some level of social interaction into each day even if that’s just a brief phone call with a friend. Consider joining online communities for your hobbies or perhaps host a virtual cocktail hour for all your friends to exercise your social skills. 

Reduced social contact is taking a toll on our social skills and the added anxiety of staying healthy doesn’t help. Fortunately, there are safe and effective ways to manage social anxiety if you feel it creeping into your life. Use these tips to boost your social comfort and if you feel that lifestyle changes aren’t enough to keep your anxiety at bay, consider speaking with a therapist about more targeted strategies for managing your anxiety. 

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