After a year of stress and adjustments, here comes another. As social distancing and mask-wearing regulations loosen, many are anticipating summer months full of social experiences. However, with invitations to gatherings, indoor dining and recreational activities looming, you may have been feeling more socially anxious than ever. You are not alone.
At the height of shelter-in-place, the boundary of “sorry, I can’t come-it’s a pandemic” became a tool of convenience in order to avoid all things social. Elsa Majimbo, the 19-year-old Kenyan comedian, released a series of Instagram videos expressing the very relatable feeling that resonated with the socially anxious internet community.
Anxiety knows no boundaries
Elsa admits in one of her most popular videos, “Ever since corona started we’ve all been in isolation and I miss no one,” before reiterating with laughter, “Why am I missing you? There is no reason for me to miss you.”
She continues to share a series of short videos expressing the feelings of relief when she is able to blame the pandemic in order to avoid social events.
Shelter-in-place offered a unique escape for those who constantly struggle with social interactions. Whether it was the option of being able to attend work meetings from home with your video off or having a convenient avoidant strategy to steer clear of mingling with others, a year of isolation was some of the most comfortable you may have felt.
The end of an era
If you’re experiencing increased levels of social anxiety around this time as society reopens, it’s understandable. Meg Gitlin, a therapist and a MyWellbeing community member goes on to mention, “I would normalize the anxiety and encourage people to embrace it. Anxiety at its core is a protective evolutionary response to perceived danger so it makes total sense that our anxiety would be higher than normal after the traumatic year we’ve endured.”
So what now?
To help cope with your social anxiety post shelter-in-place, keep these tips in mind.
1. Determine if the feeling is fear or anxiety and challenge your thoughts with evidence.
Fear and anxiety commonly get mistaken for each other. Knowing the difference will help lead you to the best coping method. Once you determine the difference, challenge your thoughts with evidence. Ask yourself:
- Are you vaccinated?
- What are the covid rates in the area?
- How is the business taking precautions?
- Am I taking any precautions (eating outside, washing hands)?
These questions can help lead you to the decision that makes you feel the safest based on evidence and not a perceived threat.
2. Set Boundaries
Continue to practice the boundaries you got comfortable setting during the pandemic. When making a social plan, choose businesses or areas with multiple options that you feel comfortable with. Take into consideration the time, location, and emotional needs that will make you feel safe and protected.
3. Practice Exposures
If you’re someone who has been staying home throughout the pandemic, re-integrating into social spaces can feel overwhelming. Unfortunately, when these feelings arise, avoiding them doesn’t help. Practice exposures and plan outings including the time you will spend there, the people who you will interact with and the location. Set realistic expectations and give yourself grace. After a year of isolation, it can be difficult to reemerge like nothing happened. At the completion of each exposure, reflect on what went well and what needs work to improve. It gets easier each time.
This pandemic was an unprecedented experience for everyone and easing back into a social society is okay.
About the Author: Rudairo Segbeaya is a Behavior Therapist and Pacific CBT’s Office Manager. She is currently interested in understanding the relationship between race and mental health specifically within the African American community as well as finding possible solutions to healing intergenerational trauma. Rudairo received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.