If you’re feeling anxious about life going back to ‘normal’ after lockdown, don’t worry. You’re not alone, and there are ways to help manage your anxiety and ease back into things at your own pace. Tasha Bailey, our mental health guest expert at Healthily, offers some advice.
After more than a year of social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown and social distancing rules are beginning to ease in many parts of the world. While this might make many of us feel relieved and excited, it can also cause some fear and anxiety.
In particular, social anxiety after lockdown can stand in the way of enjoying opportunities to socialise again. We’ve become used to a different way of life, where connection has been limited to phone calls and virtual interactions – so returning to the demands of normal life can easily feel overwhelming.
Here are some tips that can help you manage social anxiety after lockdown.
Take your time
There may be people and experiences you’re keen to return to, so it can be tempting to over-fill your diary with plans. But over-committing could leave you feeling anxious and resentful. Many of us may also be more easily drained by group gatherings than we were 18 months ago.
Go at your own pace. Also, try not to compare how much you’re socialising with other people – or even with your pre-pandemic self.
As humans, we find comfort in routine, familiarity and structure – keep this in mind when you’re beginning to make post-lockdown plans. Write a list of what you feel comfortable with right now when it comes to socialising.
Think about who, what and where. Maybe you only feel comfortable with time-limited social gatherings or only going to places you’re already familiar with. Your list of boundaries can be loosened up over time, as you feel ready. It's a great idea to communicate this with friends and family, so they know your boundaries.
Move your body
Social anxiety has physical signs too, including nausea, sweating, shortness of breath and trembling. In moments of anxiety, our body kicks into fight-or-flight mode. This gives us an adrenaline rush in the form of panic, which can be difficult to shake.
Try tricking your fight-or-flight system by going for a walk, a run, dancing or doing yoga. These all help release adrenaline in the body, leaving you in a calmer state. Add one of these activities to your morning routine before a social event.
Stay in the present
A socially anxious mind can be flooded with worries about the future – like thinking about worst-case scenarios or fearing judgement from others. We often obsess over these thoughts to try to control them. This over-thinking stops us from being present and fully enjoying social interaction.
To avoid this, practise being present by focusing on your senses. Notice what you can see, smell, taste, touch and hear when you’re socialising. It's also a great way to deepen your connection and empathy with people.
While it’s important to go at a pace that’s right for you, avoiding social situations altogether can also be damaging. The only way to really reduce stress is to eventually face your fear until it feels better.
Try setting small, bite-sized social goals to work towards. This will allow you to build your resilience and confidence over time. You could also journal about your social experiences to help you reflect on your progress and show some self-compassion.
Ask for help
Social anxiety can leave us feeling alone and isolated. Connecting with people who might be able to help can make a big difference. Is there a friend who can comfort you? Or a manager who can support your return to the office after lockdown?
If your social anxiety feels unmanageable and is affecting your sleep, concentration and daily living, speak to your doctor. You could also consider getting professional help from a therapist who specialises in working with social anxiety. They may be able to help you with reframing anxious thoughts, using methods like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mentalisation or mindfulness.
- if you feel anxious about socialising after lockdown, go slowly and define what boundaries you might need to set
- exercise, yoga and mindfulness can be helpful in easing anxiety
- avoiding social situations may delay anxiety, but it won’t resolve it
- don’t be afraid to ask for support from your social circle or colleagues
- if social anxiety is affecting your sleep or daily activities, speak to your doctor or a therapist