How to cope with social anxiety as lockdown restrictions ease

In this blog, Christine shares her own feelings and tips for coping with social anxiety as lockdown restrictions ease.

The day the first lockdown was lifted in the UK I sat on the tube headed to my first football match. I wondered if I’d be too early and forced to make small talk with my new team for longer than I was prepared to do. I considered walking around for a while to allow just enough time to sit with the team and lace up my boots, but not so much time I’d run out of things to say.

Scrolling through social media and talking to friends, it may feel as if you’re the only person in the world who is nervous about life being ‘normal’ again. But for many of us, re-building the confidence to get back into the swing of socialising feels like a difficult step.

‘What if my friends think I’m boring?’, ‘What if we have nothing to talk about?’ ‘What if I’ve changed?’. Navigating through social situations can be hard.

My identity as a bubbly extrovert felt compromised with these unfamiliar thoughts. What I experienced this first day out of lockdown is a common experience many might feel as we transition back to social settings.

Flexing our social muscles again is similar to taking a jog after sitting on the couch for months. We might feel out of breath, have sore muscles, and not be able to go as far as we had previously. When it comes to socialising, we might feel exhausted, unfocused, grouchy, nervous, or irritable.

Here are some things you can do to prepare:

Shift the focus from internal to external.

When we experience anxiety or stress it’s common to get stuck in our own thoughts and physical sensations. We can get caught in a loop where the more we worry about saying the wrong thing or looking nervous the stronger the worry grows. Break this pattern by focusing on others, not yourself. The more you concentrate on what’s happening around you, the less you’ll be affected by anxious thoughts. Really listen to what others around you are saying and ask questions. If you notice your mind drifting, bring your attention back to the present moment.

Face the social situation. When we have an anxious thought, avoidance can make the anxiety grow stronger. If we experience anxious thoughts about a social situation and then we avoid the social situation, our anxiety might be temporarily relieved. What we’ve done by avoiding however, is signal to our brains that avoidance = relief. The more we avoid, the more we reinforce this reaction and the stronger it will grow. To break this cycle we need to face a social situation head on. It will be uncomfortable at first, but the more you challenge this anxious reaction, the less powerful it will become.

It is still okay to say no to social interactions. Many times we need space and alone time to recharge. Just be sure to assess what is behind the urge to say no. Is it anxiety and fear based or are you listening to valid signals that you need time to recharge?

Set yourself up for success. Before an upcoming social engagement make sure that you are refueled. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are refueled before putting yourself in a potentially anxiety provoking situation. Prepare yourself by adopting an anxiety managing routine. Consider: limiting alcohol (which may increase risk of an anxiety attack), avoiding or limiting caffeine and nicotine. Consider: increasing quality sleep, physical exercise, eating healthy foods (especially Omega-3 fatty acids).

As you return to socialising, be on the lookout for signs that you might need to recharge and remember that what you need might be different from other people.

Take it slowly, be kind to yourself,and remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or need to talk through how you feel,Shout 85258 is always here for support. Just text SHOUT to 85258 to speak to a trained volunteer in confidence.