COVID-19 Has Caused More Social Anxiety – What Does That Mean for Your Relationships?
Since the first reports of a highly contagious, potentially lethal novel coronavirus began to emerge early this year, people have been taking extraordinary measures to slow the transmission of illness in their communities. Self-quarantining has been a routine part of these preventive actions, including working from home and limiting travel only to essential errands.
When most of your interactions with people outside your household have been through your laptop screen for six months or more, the idea of face-to-face gatherings may now seem foreign or even upsetting. If you’re starting to find safe, socially distanced ways to get together in person, you’ll need tips for improving strained relationships and putting your social anxiety at ease.
How Does Isolation Lead to Social Anxiety?
A lack of practice can cause skills to atrophy, which is why even the world’s most gifted artists and musicians must continue honing their abilities. Research on astronauts, Arctic explorers and others who have spent long periods working alone or in small groups tells us that social skills are no different. When these people returned to society after their isolation, they reported feeling more anxious, awkward and uncomfortable around others.
In pre-pandemic life, you might have taken casual daily interactions with colleagues, friends and even complete strangers for granted. However, what if you haven’t had the opportunity for many of these exchanges in several months? Because humans evolved to live in social groups, even the most introverted people start to crave companionship during prolonged isolation.
Depriving yourself of in-person communication is emotionally draining and might cause or worsen social anxiety. Here’s some common-sense advice you can use to put your mind at ease when you’re thinking about resuming some of your normal pre-COVID-19 activities.
1. Go Slowly
There’s no reason to rush back into in-person socialization if it makes you worried. Start by reconnecting with your closest friends and family members. Take CDC-recommended precautions like keeping group sizes small, wearing masks and meeting outside, if possible. If these gatherings cause your social anxiety to spike, keep them brief and gradually increase the time you spend together.
2. Use Creative Visualization
Many therapists recommend visualization as a technique for helping people overcome anxiety. Your mind’s eye can be a powerful tool in turning negativity into positivity. If you’re feeling stressed out about an upcoming meeting with co-workers or friends, try to picture every step of how you want the get-together to go. You might also want to ask your spouse, partner or anyone else who’s been quarantining with you to rehearse or role-play specific scenarios.
3. Practice Self-Care
Deep breathing exercises, meditation, going to therapy and keeping a journal can all be constructive ways to manage social anxiety. Taking a proactive approach to managing your mental health can make you more resilient in how you react to unexpected scenarios. You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but if you rehearse your response to anxiety triggers, you can respond better when they arise.
4. Don’t Feel Guilty About Setting Boundaries
Conflicting approaches to pandemic safety may cause some tension in your relationships. For instance, perhaps you still don’t feel comfortable eating at a restaurant, but your friends or family members keep inviting you to meet them for dinner. It can be hard to say no to loved ones, especially when you haven’t seen them in months. However, if an activity feels like an unnecessary risk, you are well within your rights to politely turn down the invitation. Suggest an alternative such as a video chat or virtual game night instead.
5. Seek Help When You Need It
If the COVID-19 pandemic has caused your social anxiety to spike, your relationships may be deteriorating as a result. Instead of relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms to get you through these difficult times, ask trusted friends and family members for advice. Going to therapy – either in person or via telehealth apps – can also be beneficial in helping you identify and address the underlying causes of your anxiety and stress.
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