Tips from an expert: Social anxiety as we move to Covid-normal
As much of Australia comes out of lockdown, you’d be forgiven for thinking everyone’s celebrating a return to normalcy. In reality though, this transition period can be a challenging time for many, particularly those among us who experience social anxiety.
We spoke to Kristen Grisdale, Provisional Psychologist at ACAP’s Psychology Clinic about how to manage the move back to daily interactions if it all feels somewhat overwhelming.
Kristen says social anxiety essentially is the nervousness we may feel around our relationships with others. Perhaps we worry we’ll embarrass ourselves or we overthink what other people’s opinions of us might be.
“We all get socially anxious sometimes, but some people feel it more intensely and in certain situations, or at particularly times. They may get physical signs like a fast heart rate, blushing, a tense feeling or shaking”.
Kristen suggests that because we all experience social anxiety at some level, even people who’ve never felt it was a problem for them before may start to notice it at a time like this when we’ve been starved of interactions for so long.
“It’s important to be exposed to things that make us anxious because that’s how we become more comfortable with them over time, like how we’re more nervous on our first day in a new job than we are 6 months in. When we’ve had a period of time not facing our fears, our anxiety is then heightened when we do and we need to work harder to overcome it”.
Kristen has 3 top tips for managing social anxiety; practice self-compassion, shift attention outward and go at your own pace.
“Firstly, be kind to yourself. Social anxiety is perfectly normal and, despite what you see on social media, there are plenty of people feeling like you right now. Try imaging what a supportive friend would say to you. Take a balanced approach to negative emotions, recognising and accepting them for what they are”.
SHIFT YOUR FOCUS
When we’re in the thick of an anxiety episode, our focus is often on ourselves, or ‘inward’. We may think everyone’s going to notice we’re blushing, or that we’ve said something inappropriate and that we’ll never recover. This focus on ourselves only serves to make us more self-conscious so it’s important to reverse it. Kristen suggests we can do this by consciously shifting our attention outward instead.
“This is something we can practice at any time and then use when we need to. Because we can really only focus on one thing at a time, moving our attention to external factors like the sounds, visuals, smells around us switches on our outward attention, switching off the inward attention”.
Kristen’s final tip is to take the transition to normality at your own pace. As we come out of lockdowns, we’re often faced with lots of invitations to catch up with multiple groups of people but it’s important to stick to your boundaries.
“Perhaps catch up with the people you feel most comfortable with first and ease yourself into things. It’s easy to feel pressured but don’t cave to it. Give yourself time and take baby steps” she says.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
So, what if this doesn’t work and you’re still finding attempts to assimilate are tougher than you’d like? Firstly, know that you are not alone. There are many people like you, and ACAP is here to help. Our 8-week group program for social anxiety is run by people like Kristen who are undertaking professional training with ACAP and is currently being provided free of charge.