Post Lockdown Shy or Social Anxiety?
As we come out of the latest lockdown, is it really that unusual to feel a little nervous about socialising again? Having interacted with family, friends and colleagues via video chat or phone we could feel a little unsettled meeting up face to face. What are the new or adapted rules when we meet up? Do we wear a mask, shake hands or hug? What if they initiate the handshake or hug and you’re not ready or prepared? Do you refuse, sanitise your hands immediately, bump elbows or fists?
First and foremost, be yourself. If you are uncomfortable, state it, own it. Be honest with yourself and with them. Clearly state you are not comfortable with that yet, or if they refuse your handshake or hug, don’t take it personally. We have all been bombarded with a fear campaign for a year now, ‘contact may be deadly to you or others you come into contact with’. After such a prolonged period and the number of times that you have been given this and similar messages (designed to make you anxious) it is not something that just gets switched off in us.
We still have all the social skills that we learned before the age of 7. We adapted and improved those skills as we navigated and blundered through puberty and our early twenties. Right now, as we emerge from under the restrictions, it can feel like we have forgotten them. We may have discovered that someone we thought we were close with became distant or socially disappeared! We could have discovered greater friendships and deeper relationships, because the ‘safety’ of distance or remoteness of video or phone conversations enabled us to be more open than we may otherwise have been. We may even understand ourselves better, know who is and who is not important to us.
Integrate yourself socially at your own pace.
It rarely hurts to have a plan. Begin to consider how you are going to get back into your social life. What are your hopes and fears about socialising? Are you looking to start dating or rebuilding or making new friendships (or both)? Plans such as, meeting up for walks, or going for a coffee, or a takeaway and park next to each other. Small steps can ease your anxiety and having control helps that too. You may decide that you want to go to a large gathering, kind of ‘jumping in at the deep end’, if that is your style, do it. Make your own choices, be true to yourself. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and definitely respect others wishes, pressurising someone to do something they are not ready for rarely works out well! If you feel like you have fallen out of being social, reach out to those you have missed, make that call, have that chat you have been intending to. Be present and just do it, after all what’s the worst that could happen?
Deal with your Anxiety
The physical feeling of being mildly nervous and anxious is similar to the physical feeling of excitement and anticipation for something you are looking forward to. More than mild feelings can be, and are better to be managed. Anxiety and fear are there to protect us and keep us safe. This triggers a ‘Fight or Flight (and Freeze) reaction in our bodies. This was very useful in the days when we could be prey and a predator. But like any system, if it gets triggered too often or at the wrong time it becomes the problem. Firstly if it is getting too much, do diaphragmatic breathing.
Breathe out. Imagine pulling your belly button toward your spine
Take a deep breath in (from your stomach (tummy out) rather than your chest)
Hold that breath for a count of 5 (if you are comfortable to do so)
Let the breath go and relax your shoulders
Take three normal breaths then repeat.
Do three cycles if needed.
Remind yourself that some anxiety is normal, but you are in control and you can leave if you need to. You do not have to do anything that you are not comfortable with. It is likely that if you are anxious, give or take a bit, those you are socialising with will be too. Focus outside of your thoughts, be present in the environment, interact with people around you. Notice the sights and sounds, fragrances, the clouds or sky, look up at the buildings. Having a purpose for the interaction is going to help, even if the purpose is to feel less isolated. Remembering that it is not just you that wants a good social life, everyone that you are interacting with will most likely feel the same. You do your bit to make it happen and be comfortable and let them do the same.
After the meeting / event / first day of work
Reviewing what happened and how you felt / reacted is good, conducting a critical ‘self evaluation’, less so. Asking yourself what went well is a great start, be honest and open with yourself. What would you do differently is the next question to ask yourself. Keep in the positive, no self-criticism allowed, this is about learning and improving.
However you decide to do this, consider that this is an opportunity to reshape or redefine your social life. This is an opportunity that has rarely become available to us. Not in living history have we, as a population had so much isolation imposed. There are going to be effects that we could not have imagined or predicted and there are going to be lessons learned. If you want to have deeper and more meaningful relationships, closer friends, or a diverse social life, this is THE opportunity to create that for yourself.
If you, or someone you know or care about, is struggling to manage anxiety or it is overwhelming them, seek out help. Speak to a friend, contact your GP practice, seek therapy. There is no benefit for suffering in silence, you are most certainly not alone! Private therapists, such as myself, are trained and available to help. It really is worth the money to get yourself back ‘in the game’, consider it an investment in yourself. To add perspective, we may spend hundreds of pounds on decorating, or garden improvements, or our car. Why not invest in your mental wellbeing, that way you can get the most out of your everyday life.
If you need an appointment, follow the link. Taster sessions are available, kind of a ‘try before you buy’.