Man walking through the city alone
Man walking through the city alone

Managing social anxiety as life returns to ‘new normal’

This article is adapted from a piece originally published on Beyond Blue’s website.

For people who experience social anxiety, the return to ‘normal’ life after lockdown may feel challenging. Here are four steps to help manage social anxiety in the moment.

With many places opening back up after lockdown, many people are enjoying life going back to ‘normal’ (albeit a ‘new normal’). But this isn’t the case for everyone.

For those who experience social anxiety, the lockdown period may have brought reprieve from daily face-to-face interactions, and the thought of going back into the wider community post-pandemic may feel hard.

Social anxiety – or social phobia – isn’t just about being a bit nervous or uncomfortable around others, it's a mental and physical battle.

What are the signs?

Common signs may include excessive sweating, shaking, blushing or stuttering when trying to speak – as well as nausea or diarrhea, among others. These symptoms are often barely noticeable from the outside but for the person experiencing them, it could be all they think about.

There’s nothing like recognising you’re feeling anxious to make you feel even more anxious.

In addition to worrying about how you look by sweating and blushing in front of everyone, you may also worry that you will do or say the wrong thing and end up publicly humiliated and embarrassed. It may be difficult to make eye contact or even think about anything other than “What is everyone else thinking”?

How to keep your cool in the moment

Challenge your negative thoughts
  • Question the facts behind your thoughts and assumptions.
  • Instead of: “That person hates me”, try "they’ve only been nice to me."
  • Instead of: “I’m late so my boss probably thinks I’m unreliable", try "everyone is late sometimes, and I’m usually on time."
Distract yourself
  • Think of something that makes you feel good – immerse yourself in a memory. Try and remember as many details as you can and how you felt in that moment.
  • Tell yourself that there’s no use dwelling on your negative thoughts in this moment – recognise that they’re not helping. You can do this by listening to music, reading a book, practising mindfulness or watching TV.
  • If you can’t do these things in the present moment you can try to distract your mind by counting down from 100, doing your times tables, noticing how many people are wearing blue around you… whatever works.
Delay your thoughts
  • Set aside time to think about negative thoughts later. Knowing you’re going to deal with it later can help you get through the current moment. It might seem strange putting time in your diary for thinking but if you have a strict start and finish time (say 30 minutes apart) it can help you gain control and stop negative thoughts interfering with your whole day.
Breathe
  • Relaxation techniques and practising mindfulness can have a great impact on your mindset and ability to cope.
  • Take deep, evenly spaced breaths – making sure to use your whole diaphragm.
  • Think about the word ‘relax’ on your breath out and imagine all your worries flowing out of you.
  • Relax your muscles by starting from your toes and focusing on different parts of your body all the way up to your face – tensing them – and then letting them completely relax.

These tips are only small things you can do by yourself that can help in the short term but social anxiety is treatable and seeking  professional support is the first step to recovery.

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