Overcoming social anxiety in a post-pandemic world
This article by certified positive psychology coach Beverly Landais looks at ways of dealing with the anxiety you may feel when meeting others in a post-pandemic world.
"Tremendous relief mixed with trepidation about what lies ahead" is how one of my clients described her feelings about the easing of restrictions. Many of us feel the same way. The long lockdown period has created new routines that provide security. You may be unwilling to venture outside these boundaries. Even positive change can make you feel uneasy. It may take time to readjust to things you have not done for a while.
There are many straightforward ways to help you manage anxious feelings and make it easier to adjust. Give yourself a boost with regular self-care such as exercise, getting enough rest, listening to music or other enjoyable activities that will help you keep up your energy. You may find it helpful to spend time outside in a green space before indoor meetings. The fresh air will lift your mood, and noticing your surroundings can ground you.
Communication is vital when addressing anxiety and worry. Talk about the situation and how you feel with those at home and with co-workers at your workplace. Expressing what is on your mind will reduce tension and allow you to gain perspective. It helps to remember that we've all been through a tough time, and others will be similarly affected. Open communication is essential to building psychological safety, giving you and others the space to move at their speed. It will also enable you to share tips on keeping healthy and safe.
As the situation evolves, it is essential to go at your own pace. Think about what will help you to feel protected and comfortable. Begin socialising with others in a way that feels safe to you. Perhaps start with activities you previously enjoyed, like meeting close friends for a coffee or snack outside and gradually build up from there.
Ahead of socialising with others at work, become familiar with the preventative measures that are in place. Doing so will help reassure and enable you to feel safe and comfortable. Take practical steps such as ensuring you always have a spare mask and sanitising gel in your bag. Check-in with clients and colleagues ahead of time to confirm the meeting arrangements so that you know that all is well before you set out.
You may feel that your social skills are rusty and be unsure about how to strike up a conversation. Consider that the other person may feel the same way as this will reduce the pressure on you to perform. Telling someone that you enjoy their company and how nice it is to see them will naturally start the ball rolling. Is there a book, film or Netflix series that you've enjoyed over lockdown? Sharing stories is a human response to the psychological need to connect. Talking together about what has entertained and sustained you can build rapport and strengthen the bonds of friendship.
Each person will experience their response to lockdown changes differently. Your feelings might change. One day you might feel confident and comfortable; the next, you might feel uncertain and anxious. Accept any feelings that arise without harsh self-criticism. When you notice you are worrying or feeling twitchy, remind yourself that you are safe and well at this moment. Remember that feelings are only feelings unless you act upon them, and then they become a behaviour. Be kind to yourself as you do this.
Try this: Five Senses Check-In
The Five Senses Check-In helps centre and calm you, allowing you to deal with whatever comes your way. A grounding exercise like this can slow your breathing, slow your heart rate, and stop you from feeling overwhelmed. It is simple to do, and I find it most beneficial when out walking, but also just as good to do sitting quietly for five minutes and allowing myself to focus on each sense.
- Start by breathing in for the count of 3, hold for 4 and out for 5. Do this at least twice.
- Now check in with your five senses, one at a time.
- Spend a short time, say one minute, on each sense, then move on to the next.
- You can do this grounding exercise while sitting, standing or while out for a walk.
Use the framework below to guide you:
- What do I see? (Look around you and allow yourself to notice all that you can observe)?
- What do I hear? (How many sounds can you hear? Are they soft or loud? Do they merge, or is one particularly clear)?
- What can I smell? (Is it strong or delicate? Are the smells sour or sweet? Is one prevalent)?
- What can I taste? (Allow your tongue to wander around your mouth. What flavours do you notice)?
- What can I feel in my body? (Take a moment and do a mental body scan. What sensations do you notice? Are you tense or relaxed?)
Just be with all the feelings that arise without self-criticism or judgment. Finish the Five Senses Check-In by thinking back to when you successfully dealt with something that initially felt difficult or frightening. What strengths, skills, resources and support networks that you accessed then might support you now?
How do you feel now? Are you back in the moment and back in your body? Compare how you feel now with how you felt five minutes ago—what has changed? This simple mindfulness technique works as it intentionally shifts your focus. Doing so calms the stress response enabling you to feel more grounded.
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