Social anxiety has its roots in a fear of being rejected or criticised by others. If you suffer from social anxiety, you try to do things right to avoid being negatively judged. Typically, social anxiety discourages you from mixing with others because of the prospect of fear and embarrassment.
In the aftermath of lockdown there are numerous different opinions about how to behave and stay safe, which can considerably increase social anxiety.
So many more decisions must be made about behaviour – where and when to wear a mask, which way to move around a shop, and how to behave in situations where others aren’t respecting social distancing, to name a few.
Add in the difficulty of reading other people’s facial expressions behind their mask, and the valid worry of picking up a virus which could put your health at risk, and it’s no wonder it’s tempting to avoid social situations completely.
A lack of interaction with others contributes to social anxiety. You may have experienced social anxiety on an ongoing basis and found it’s been worsened by lockdown, or you may be experiencing it for the first time at the prospect of mixing socially with others again.
After this extended period spent alone or with a small family bubble, it’s inevitable mingling with others can be daunting. Remaining isolated prevents the feelings of anxiety from occurring, but encourages social anxiety to grow.
Mixing with others and challenging your ideas about how you feel around people can lessen social anxiety. But don’t feel pressurised to accept invitations you don’t feel comfortable with. Being largely without social contact for a number of months can make the outside world seem a scary place. So, go at your own pace.
If you’re asked to go back into the office and this is causing you anxiety, speak to your employer – it’s their responsibility to reassure you your workplace is COVID secure.
Chronic anxiety interferes with your quality of life. You aren’t designed to be constantly on high alert. If your body is continually dealing with anxiety, its chemistry will change. Long term release of hormones needed to deal with stress can deplete your immune system, increase inflammation, drain your energy and cause you to put on weight. Stress can also adversely affect your cardiovascular system, and your digestion may suffer. Muscle tension often causes neck and back ache and headaches.
Decide to minimise the effects of anxiety by engaging in positive actions you can control:
Stop looking at social media and the news and use this time instead to treat yourself to some yoga, meditation, Pilates or massage. Even just 20 minutes a day can improve your resilience to stress.
Good immune health is your natural defence against viruses, so supporting your immune system can alleviate some of the anxiety about the health effects of interacting with others.
If you haven’t spent much time outdoors, you may be low in Vitamin D, vital for a healthy immune response. Vitamin D is not widespread in the diet, so a supplement may be helpful if your blood levels are low. Other immune boosting nutrients include Vitamin C, zinc and selenium.
The effects of stress are often felt first in your digestive system. Eat natural foods containing plenty of gentle fibre and enjoy fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha.
Magnesium helps muscles and nerves to relax. Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts and legumes. Or relax in a bath with Epsom salts, especially before bed to help you sleep.
Everyone responds differently to stress and anxiety-provoking events, so however you feel about approaching social situations is right for you. Try not to dwell on how others may react. Look at this time as an opportunity to build resilience to other people’s judgements.
As COVID-19 continues to hang around like an unwelcome guest, confronting and overcoming social anxiety is a skill you’ll be grateful for after the pandemic has passed.
Remember you are not alone. If you would like some personalised, one-to-one help to minimise the negative physical effects of stress and anxiety, then please don’t hesitate to contact me.
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