The Impact of COVID-19 on Social Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is an emotion we get when we anticipate an uncertain outcome from a specific event. It may bring a sense of threat, which causes us to feel uneasy. In some situations, feeling anxious is normal and may even bring benefits. For instance, normal anxiety keeps us aware of our surroundings and responsibilities. With normal anxiety, we can still perform adequately despite feeling fear.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when our ability to function is impeded. We may find it hard to complete tasks without feeling highly overwhelmed by emotions. As a result, we may be compelled to avoid the situation that is causing us anxiety. Feeling anxious around other people is normal, especially when they are strangers. Still, when we begin to avoid or neglect our right to form relationships or connections, that’s when social anxiety disorder applies.

The American Psychiatric Association’s definition of social anxiety disorder is the “significant anxiety and discomfort about being embarrassed, humiliated, rejected, or looked down on in social interactions” (Muskin, 2021). Social anxiety disorder used to be referred to be as social phobia due to individuals feeling extreme fear around meeting new people.

How is the pandemic affecting the prevalence of social anxiety disorder?

The rapid emergence of COVID-19 increased many people’s anxiety around the world. Due to the pandemic, the leading causes of anxiety were the uncertainty of the nature of the virus, transitioning to remote working or learning, and relationship strains caused by regulations from our authorities. A 2020 global health article revealed that the age group between 21-40 years old showed the highest anxiety, depression, and stress levels. The article claims that this is due to health and financial burdens brought about by the pandemic.

Like most people, you may rely heavily on social interaction and proximity. Therefore, you may have found it difficult to adjust to the reduced social interaction, especially with friends and coworkers. For many individuals, the impact of forcing them to work from home, may cause them to re-learn how to manage their time. On top of everyday chores and family obligations, finding time for remote working (or learning) was a difficult feat to learn. Because of this, people found it hard to reserve time to catch up with friends. The lack of constant social interaction puts many people at risk for social anxiety. Building connections may be difficult, thus making them fearful of even starting a conversation.

Social interaction is a skill that should be constantly improved. Everyone’s social interaction skills depleted when the pandemic occurred. And now that some social distancing protocols are being lifted, we are bound to interact more with society once again. For some, social interaction is easy to relearn. But for many, it is hard to get used to again.

Suppose you are the part of the population that finds it hard to interact, especially now that social restrictions are slowly being lifted. In that case, there are tips on managing social anxiety that can be applied in any situation and environment, whether it’s returning to in-person working, going back to school, or even going out to do errands. Listed below are the best strategies for managing social anxiety disorder:

Continue to practice your social interaction skills.
Great social media apps have made it easy for you to remain in contact with family, friends, and coworkers. Try to schedule at least one phone or video call every week.
This will allow your brain to think on the spot instead of taking hours to create the perfect text reply.

Use deep breathing exercises.
When you begin to feel overwhelmed, whether you’re just about to leave your house or you’re already outside, do some deep breathing exercises. This is highly beneficial for distracting your thoughts and calming down your nervous system. Take this time to slow down and reflect on your next move.

Practice positive self-talk.
Having self-compassion truly goes a long way. It keeps up aware of our body’s needs. Make it a habit to say at least three nice things about yourself every day. And when your anxiety comes up, use the deep breathing exercises, and follow it up with reassuring, positive self-talk. Remind yourself that your emotions are valid.

Establish a routine every day.
Having a routine will put our minds in “the zone.” When we are determined to complete a task, we are most likely to get it done when we have written it down. Therefore, practice writing down the list of tasks or chores you need to do for the day. It can be as simple as ‘make your bed,’ or you could remind yourself of other pressing work that needs to be accomplished. Sometimes, taking control of our emotions is required. Always remember that getting started is always the most challenging part. But once you gain focus, you will receive internal motivation.

Go out of your comfort zone, but do not overwork yourself.
We should always be striving to push ourselves past our comfort zones. This does not necessarily mean that we push ourselves past our breaking point. Doing things outside of our comfort zones gives us the confidence and assurance that we can accomplish just about anything.

Cognitive behaviour therapy.
If you reach a point of overwhelming anxiety, do not hesitate to reach out to a counsellor. In addition to practicing social interaction, you will receive credible advice. Yes, your counsellor or therapist is not necessarily your friend, but take this time to learn about human connection and behaviour.

Social anxiety disorder has significantly affected the global population and you are not alone With proper advice, you will overcome it. Even if your mind tells you otherwise, always seek help when you get too overwhelmed. Always remember that there are people who will be able to understand what you are going through and be available for you.

Source: MHC Asia Group ©