Friends Student-made Wellbeing

How to manage lockdown-induced social anxiety and get back to face-to-face socialising

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As restrictions begin to ease, it’s becoming apparent there is a common concern about reconnecting with friends and family in social situations. It makes sense that we might feel uneasy in the company of others after such a prolonged period without social contact, especially as the current restrictions make face-to-face meetings a little less natural.

Now, when we meet a friend, it’s socially distanced which means no hugs or handshakes, and awkward seating arrangements. Facemasks make communicating more challenging and the ‘rule of 6’ can cause upset amongst friends. I know that I have been feeling less like myself lately and often wonder whether I have anything to talk about beyond zoom calls and daily exercise.

Whether you have long-struggled with social worries or find yourself feeling unusually awkward around people during the pandemic, worrying excessively about potential social interaction or overthinking your conversations will definitely not help and can lead to increased levels of anxiety and social isolation.

We need to remember that it is possible to feel comfortable, more than that, enjoyable to spend time in the company of others, even if things are feeling a little weird at the minute. So, I thought I’d share some thoughts and strategies that have been helping me as we adust to yet another new normal!

1. Focus your attention on the ‘controllables’

If you worry about social situations, you may find yourself stressing before, during and after seeing people. Worrying to this extent really isn’t helpful and will only heighten your social anxiety.

Before a social interaction, I try to focus my attention on the more practical aspects of a meetup. Spending time on deciding what to wear and where to meet will distract your mind from worry and keep you feeling in control.

2. Be present and engage in face-to-face interactions

It is easy to fear embarrassment and over analyse yourself in social situations, and when this happens you drift away from the conversations around you. Remember that no one enjoys talking to someone who is only partly listening.

Whenever my thoughts start to turn towards negative assessments of what’s happening (Did I answer how they wanted? Was I funny enough? Did I just interrupt? Let’s face it, the list is endless), I try to consciously turn my mind back to the present and just engage. There is really no point in attempting to read the other person’s thoughts.

3. Shift your attention onto others rather than focus on yourself

Rather than focusing on your own ‘performance’ and aspiring to be the perfect mix of hilarious, confident and intelligent; consider paying attention to who you are with.

I always find that shifting my attention onto someone else and really connecting with them makes the whole social interaction a much more pleasant experience.

4. Create opportunities to grow as a person

I always think that is important to understand your social worries and barriers. Know that you are going to find some situations difficult but try and challenge yourself to engage in these situations. Over time you might just change your behaviours and find previously awkward encounters much more enjoyable. .

I have always found expressing an unpopular opinion in a group of people slightly intimidating. Some people love playing devil’s advocate – not me! But I do know that without differing beliefs, the world would be a very boring place. So, I am trying to be confident in sharing my views, no matter how hard I find it to speak up, and so, I have engaged in debates and conversations which I would have previously avoided at all costs!

5. Accept yourself for who you are

No one is perfect and we all need to learn how to accept our mistakes. Real conversations are full of filler words, awkward pauses, and derailments- embrace them!

I definitely struggle with making a mistake or not being my ‘perfect’ self in every social encounter. However, I have come to realise that no-one actually judges you on your blunders- they are just human nature after all. It is also comforting to realise that, often, mishaps go unnoticed by everyone but yourself.

6. Start re-connecting now

If there was ever a time for nourishing connections, it is now. Do not wait around for the perfect time to reach out to your friends and family, because that time will never come.

I have found that the more I connect with people, the quicker that my social anxiety has dissipated. I now cannot wait for my next garden party or shopping trip with friends.