If your social anxiety worsened during the pandemic, you are not alone. Quite some people wrote me since the pandemic started, telling me how the quarantine and social isolation increased their social anxiety levels.
At first thought, this might seem surprising and paradoxical. How can social isolation increase your social anxiety if the term itself means that you don’t meet (many) people? You’d think people with social anxiety disorder will be the happiest – no more necessity to go out and see people! There are even plenty of jokes that started going around like “I’ve trained for this my whole life” or “I was social distancing before it was cool”, or even “I’m a social distancing champion”.
So how come that the quarantine made things worse for those who are socially anxious?
The answer is simple – interacting with people is an essential part of overcoming social anxiety and becoming socially at ease, so if you stop interacting, there’s a high chance you’ll be moving backwards and social anxiety symptoms will worsen.
Even though I don’t have social anxiety disorder anymore, I felt weird seeing some people again too. I didn’t get very anxious, and nowadays I can quickly let go of anxious feelings that might appear occasionally, but it still surprised me and was interesting to observe because it happened with people it never happened before.
Why do we have to interact with people in order to overcome social anxiety?
The answer to this is simple too: When we have social phobia, it means that our brain perceives other people as danger. Every time we avoid social interaction, we give our brain a confirmation that the danger is real and reinforce our brain’s perception of danger and consequently, increase our anxiety in the long run.
This is especially true if we avoid social interaction on purpose, but as we can see now during the pandemic, it can also happen when social isolation is not quite our choice.
You can learn more on how to deal with your fears in my article on overcoming social anxiety in 9 steps.
Now that you understand why social interaction is a very important part of overcoming social phobia, let’s look at a few things you can do to avoid increasing your anxiety levels during the pandemic and how to cope with them.
The most obvious and straightforward option is to keep in touch with your friends and family through video calls. To maximise the benefits of online socializing on your confidence levels, make sure to use video and not just chat or voice call, and try to talk to as many different people as possible, not just to one or two friends.
Maybe you can join an online course which involves interaction with others, or invite several of your friends to a video conference.
Obviously, online interaction won’t completely replace real world socializing but it’s better than nothing.
Meeting people outside while keeping physical distance
Depending on your situation, you can agree with friends to meet somewhere outside where you can all sit and chat or even walk while keeping a safe distance. I know a few people who do this and have done it myself too. I find it one of the best options to keep in touch with friends while avoiding getting in trouble.
Once again, depending on the situation and regulations in your country, you can create a social bubble with a small group of people and see each other while not seeing anyone else. If you choose this option, it’s still better to go for other options too in order to diversify your social interaction as much as possible.
Do you already practice any of these? If so, do you feel it helps you? Do you have other ideas on how to cope with social isolation and how to prepare for socializing when the lockdown ends? Share it in the comments below – it might help others too!