Everyone has had major lifestyle changes since March of last year and reentering the world a changed person has been difficult. Many were isolated with the exception of a few familiar faces, so adjusting to being in public again can be uncomfortable. The circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might have been favorable in ways for people with social anxiety. Groceries and meals were offered though curbside pick-up, avoiding the overwhelming environments of crowded supermarkets and restaurants. School, meetings, and appointments could all be conducted from home over a computer, so there was no reason to leave the house.
The impact of these changes in daily routines left a community of people who prefer seclusion and loneliness. This begs the question, has the pandemic grown the population of socially anxious or agoraphobic individuals? The stress and isolation of the pandemic has already resulted in increasing levels of depression and anxiety, and the more an individual feels that way, the less they want to do. The thought of reconnecting with family, friends, and coworkers should be exciting and refreshing after so long, but it is bringing a lot of people out of their comfort zone and inducing even more anxiety.
Here are some ways that you can combat these anxious feelings:
Sometimes writing to yourself and expressing your thoughts on paper is the best way to deal with your emotions. Writing down your progress and your setbacks can help you recognize when you are improving and when you are falling into old, negative habits. This will help you prepare for future social situations because you can better understand yourself. You also do not have to handwrite when journaling, some people prefer writing on their phones or computers.
Improving your Health
Exercising regularly is already one of the best things you can do to help your physical and mental health, but when it is done in the company of other people you can build your social skills in a non threatening environment. Taking workout classes is a great way to lessen feelings of anxiety while exposing yourself to social situations. If that is too much pressure or you do not want to pay for a gym, consider going for jogs or practicing yoga at home.
Set Goals for Yourself
You can start with a text to an old friend or saying yes to plans you would not normally go to. These harmless actions can bring you out of an isolated mindset and help you change your thinking about socializing. If you do decide to follow through with plans or reach out to someone, no matter how it turns out, reward and congratulate yourself. Celebrate the little things that can help get you closer to your ultimate goal. This will replace the feeling of anxiety with a feeling of reward and pride.
Be Your Biggest Advocate
Take care of yourself first. Some days you will feel burnt out and lack the motivation needed to leave the house and that is okay. Communicate this with your friends, family, or work so they can understand and help your situation. Asking for accommodations and setting boundaries will make the transition easier. Find a balance between challenging yourself and feeling secure.
Altagracia Andre is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist fluent in French and Creole who works with individuals, couples and families seeking changes to overcome challenges in their lives. She has worked with individuals, couples and families struggling with the aftermath of trauma including sexual abuse and domestic violence, relationship issues and other mental health issues (i.e. anxiety, depression, postpartum and anger).
For more information, visit caringtherapistsofbroward.com/staff/altagracia-andre-lmft-therapist