Focus on Coronavirus: How social anxiety is affecting our mental health!

The lack of human interaction during the lockdowns across the UK over the last year has affected us all in some way or another, but one worrying trend emerging is social anxiety. Going into lockdown for many people was not a concern, as being alone and enjoying your own company or the company or immediate family was not an issue: However, we are now seeing that even people who feel they were socially confident prior to the pandemic are feeling stressed and anxious about returning to interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.

Being isolated from family members, friends and even work colleagues over the last few months has led to worries about how the new normal going forward will have an impact on us. As human beings, we all have our own ways of meeting, greeting and comforting people, and guidelines around social distancing, socialising and returning to work have many people worrying about how they will cope with interacting with people in ways we may not be used to yet.

Some of the questions and worries we have noticed may seem trivial at first, but they can lead to overthinking, stress and anxiety and sometimes withdrawal from social situations all together. Here at Women’s Wellbeing Club, some of our members have shared some thoughts, situations and issues that they have felt or experienced so that we can help other people suffering from these feelings realise that they are not alone:

  • I felt judged and guilty when I stopped for a chat with a friend I bumped into at the supermarket
  • Although it is now ok to meet one friend for a coffee outside, is it frowned upon?
  • My friends are planning a meeting in the garden at the end of March, but I don’t feel ready to meet in a group yet, how do I say no?
  • I am worried that my work colleagues won’t take social distancing and sanitising as seriously as I do when I return to work, and that I won’t feel safe
  • I haven’t had interaction with anyone apart from immediate family for so long I am worried I will have nothing to say, and I can’t handle awkward silences.
  • How do I tell my boss I am terrified of returning to work?
  • I asked my employer what steps they had put in place for our safe return to work, but they just got annoyed with me and said wear a mask if it makes you feel better, where can I turn to for guidance?
  • I was always a huge hugger, and I am worried seeing my friends again will be awkward and standoffish without being able to greet them and say goodbye with a hug. 
  • I find conversations around this pandemic incredibly stressful, and I am worried that, with not much else going on for the last year, this is all people will be talking about when I see them again.

As you can see, the majority of worries and fears around lockdown easing is not just about catching the virus or keeping other’s safe, it is about the social interactions that will occur when we start re opening the country. If you are having feelings of anxiety regarding returning to work, meeting friends or even just going shopping, it is important to understand that you are not alone and that there is support available.

Here are 5 tips to help you cope with fears around social situations:

  1. If you’re returning to work and have worries, remember that your colleagues and line managers may be feeling the same way. Reaching out to them and talking through your worries may help. If you’re worried about getting back into a daily work routine, you can start to prepare yourself by getting back into a routine now, little steps like setting your alarm and getting up for breakfast every day when you normally would can help, and getting to bed a little earlier to make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep too.
  2. Do not be afraid to reach out for help and support, you can find your local Woman’s Wellbeing Club here, or speak to your GP or a health professional for advice on how to cope with stress and anxiety.
  3. Being prepared and planning for a meeting with a friend can help you to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, instead of worrying about things like whether they will be offended by you wearing a mask and keeping your distance, or what you will talk about, send a friendly message to help set the tone of the meeting and set boundaries. Something as simple as “I am really looking forward to our meeting, wearing masks and socially distancing will be weird, and I know we probably haven’t got anything too exciting to talk about as we’ve been in lockdown for so long, but I can’t wait to just hang out and have a coffee again”
  4. Take small steps if you’re worried about feeling overwhelmed. Start with small, brief meetings with family members or people you feel comfortable with to ease yourself back into social interaction slowly.
  5. Do not feel like you must accept every invitation if you’re not ready! Do not be afraid to say no to that socially distanced meet up on March 29th with the girls if you’re not ready or think you will be overwhelmed. We all know that feeling like you’re missing out can be stressful in itself, but your mental health is important, and acknowledging what you’re comfortable with and setting the pace for your own progress is the more important thing.

If you would like to reach out to us here at Woman’s Wellbeing Club, you can:

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