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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

Social Anxiety in a World of Social Isolation

Throughout most of the US, schools are closed or operating on a hybrid model where social interaction is significantly limited. Children and teens are taking part in distance learning and are isolated from their friends and extended family members. Adults are working from home and having groceries and essentials delivered in an effort to avoid public places. While social distancing was enforced as a means to protect society, it has also created a large-scale sense of mild social anxiety in people who may have never experienced social anxiety before. And for those who were struggling with social anxiety pre-pandemic, the increased isolation and social distancing has made it much more difficult and complicated to work on these issues and make improvements.


What is social anxiety?


Social anxiety is a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations. It is more than just feeling shy or being worried about being out in public and around people you don’t know. It’s common to worry about social situations, but someone with social anxiety will feel overly worried before, during, and after a social event, and it’s a fear that affects everyday activities. Often social anxiety can affect someone's life so much that they will avoid all social contact with people.


What are the symptoms of social anxiety?


There are three main types of social anxiety symptoms: emotional, physical, and behavioral. These symptoms will occur before, during, and after social situations and events.


Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Excessive anxiety, worry, and fear

  • Feeling embarrassed often

  • Feeling shame often

  • Feeling helplessness often

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Sweaty palms

  • Increased heart rate

  • Feeling sick

  • Becoming flushed

  • Feeling hot or cold

Behavioral symptoms may include:

  • Increased avoidance of social situations

  • Not wanting to talk with friends

  • Wanting to stay home all the time

  • Avoiding eye contact with others

With the ongoing pandemic and social distancing, these behavioral symptoms may be more difficult to detect as we are all encouraged to limit social interactions at the moment. For teens, who go through a lot as they are growing and developing as it is, adding the extra stress of the pandemic, distance learning, and social distancing to the mix can lead to real isolation.


Although shelter-in-place and social distancing may provide temporary relief from these feelings of social anxiety, this anxiety may begin to manifest in other areas of your life which is why it's important to work on social anxiety as soon as possible.


How can I improve my social anxiety while social distancing?


Social distancing, shelter-in-place, and the encouragement to stay isolated all add to the ease of avoiding social situations. And while avoidance is effective in reducing the feelings of social anxiety in the short term, it won’t help you in the long term and might even make these feelings worse when things open up again. As soon as you’re able to go out and socialize again, those feelings of anxiety are bound to return. In addition, the pandemic may have created new sources of stress for you including worries about health, accessing food and supplies, financial concerns, and feelings of isolation and loneliness.


While regular techniques for dealing with social anxiety might be harder to put into practice in the current climate, there are some ways that you can work on your social anxiety while socially distancing.


1. Stay social (even though it’s hard)

Isolation can have a negative effect on mental health, even for those of us without social anxiety, so it’s important to maintain social contact, even if it’s virtual. And even though we all need to try to stay socially distanced, it’s still possible to meet and talk to people. Pushing yourself to stay social will help you make progress with your social anxiety.


2. Go for a walk

Exercise has consistently been found to be one of the most effective ways of managing short-term anxiety. While going for a walk won’t “fix” your anxiety, it can help clear your mind, and improve mental health. You can even combine the two by going for a socially distanced walk with a friend.


3. Seek online support

Most therapy practices have adapted to the new virtual world and are now offering online therapy. Online group therapy, despite sounding scary, can be one of the most effective forms of therapy for social anxiety. Check out our blog on the 6 amazing benefits of group therapy.


How can group therapy help my social anxiety?


Group therapy provides a safe environment to share your struggles and find the support and motivation you need to deal with them. Some people are skeptical of group therapy, mostly because they feel intimidated by the thought of sharing their feelings in front of strangers, however often this is not what group therapy entails.


Group therapy can help if you are struggling with social anxiety. Often individuals emerge from a positive group experience with new interpersonal skills and abilities. Group work also helps individuals expand their ability for self-expression and emotional assertiveness.


While social communication as we know it has been turned upside down, and the sense of relief you might feel from being socially distant might help you in the short term, it’s important to stay connected. Remember, avoidance is only a short term solution and we want to set you up for success when the world opens up again.


If you’re interested in group therapy, we are forming virtual teen and adult groups. You can find out more information here, and if you’re interested in joining please email Carrie at carrie@trianglecognitivetherapy.com.

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