The Covid-19 pandemic gave people a lot of anxiety in its first days. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 per cent of U.S. adults admitted to feeling anxious in June 2020, when it became clear that this was no longer going to be a two-week synopsis, but rather a life-or-death situation. We were all optimistic about the return to normality back then, never because recovery would bring its level of stress.
Despite the reopening of restaurants, theatres, gyms, bars, and other institutions of modern life, many people are still stressed out – or rather, uneasy about the time in which they are living. In social settings, social anxiety involves fear of being viewed or judged. It exists before outbreaks of social anxiety.
Dr Monica Vermani, clinical psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness: Conquering Stress, Mood, Anxiety, and Traumas, notes that anxiety is even more prevalent now that the world is opening up. It is awkward to blend in with people again after living in a bubble for so long. It is scary for people to be scrutinized and judged, to think they might embarrass themselves or make a mistake. The disconnected and isolated environment leaves many people curious and wondering. ‘Where do I fit in?’ Or they simply do not know how people have not talked much about anything other than Covid, which can make discussing hobbies and interests feel can feel awkward.
The good news is that overcoming social anxiety isn’t impossible; with some planning and practice (and professional help if necessary), people struggling to generate friendly relationships with others in social situations can regain their confidence. Below are a few insights and tips that may be helpful.
Get to know social anxiety
Parkin, a real estate broker and entrepreneur, agrees with Vermani that social anxiety is tied to fear. She authored Overcoming Awkward: The Introvert’s Guide to Networking, Marketing, and Selling. Social anxiety stems from fears of looking stupid, fitting in, and being judged, and it manifests in many ways. People who suffer from anxiety may not even notice that sweating, butterflies in the stomach, headaches, facial flushing, light-headedness, and so on, are all symptoms of anxiety. For overriding the fear of appearing ignorant, Parkin recommends listening a lot more than speaking. Observant people get noticed. There is no point in being preoccupied with what you’re doing when you’re thinking about another person. It’s much easier to pay attention when you’re happy.
Give yourself a break
Anxiety feeds on itself ironically, brutally: You are anxious, you notice you are anxious, you try to stop feeling anxious, and you beat yourself up for feeling incapable of stopping. An element of true self-care can help, according to Dr Vermani. She says there is too much self-criticism among people. When you recognize this thought, show yourself the same compassion you would give a friend. Tell yourself, “I’m alright. Nothing will go wrong.”
Make sure you know how you’ll react if you’re nervous
If there’s an awkward silence, Parkin suggests having a mental list of questions you can ask others ahead of time so you won’t have to fumble around. Breathing is also a helpful strategy. As Dr Vermani explains, “Focusing on your breath can quickly help you get out of your head and relieve any anxiety that you may have.”. However, you can also concentrate on your senses. If you focus on a smell – maybe you keep lavender oil with you – a sound in the room, or a pleasant image for a moment, you may find that you can relax your muscles and stop thinking about it all.”
Embrace your uniqueness
People tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable in social situations, so it might be helpful to remember that. If someone appears relaxed and confident, it is either a fake act or they have practised so much that their fears have dissipated. Most of us were taught since kindergarten to be ourselves: Be yourself. Parkin says we lose our authentic selves when we present as this person. In essence, we are lying to ourselves. When we put on a façade, it’s more difficult to communicate. Accept that not everyone will like us, no matter what we do, but if we are our real selves, we will connect with the people who like us. Wouldn’t that be great? Parkin urges you to let the weirdo in you shine.