anxiety,  brain function,  mental health

How to Work Through Pandemic Social Anxiety

Since the beginning of 2020, whenever we turned on the TV, listened to the radio, browsed social media, or even while speaking with our friends and co-workers we have been bombarded with COVID-19 information. Numbers of infected, numbers of deaths around the world, constantly changing restrictions, and more have flooded our minds daily. The once normal social activities we enjoyed participating in were now considered unsafe and many of us were also required to work from home or lost our jobs completely.

A new collective experience of social anxiety has been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether you suffered from social anxiety before or you’ve slowly developed social anxiety since being isolated and distanced from others, returning to post-pandemic “normal” life can seem more daunting than the onset of the pandemic itself.

You are not alone in your concerns. Studies show that symptoms of social anxiety have increased significantly since 2020. The good news is, there are natural and effective ways to manage and cope with anxiety that will allow you to make a smoother, at-ease transition back into society.

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

To manage and cope with anxiety you must first understand the symptoms associated with it. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following symptoms, consult your healthcare provider or physician for clarification. 

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, the signs and symptoms of can anxiety include:

  • Feeling nervous, irritable, or on edge
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

Over the last year, social anxiety has been front-row-and-center as we have trained our brains to perceive people themselves as a threat due to the risk of contracting the virus. Fear of going outdoors, interacting with strangers and even fear of the air we breathe in proximity to others has been a concern for many!

As more and more have either already contracted the virus and built up an immunity to it or have become vaccinated, the threat ratio has lowered, however, our brain may not recognize the change and continue to ignite our fight or flight response.

Get Ready to Face Society Once Again

Before the pandemic, you may not have had to deal with anxiety and fear of social settings as you are now. You may also be feeling the pressure from work responsibilities, friends, and/or family to return to your normal routines.

If the idea of re-engaging with society is causing you worry, here are some tips to help:

  • Get outside of the house every day. Even if this is just a 20-30min walk around your neighbourhood. Although you may not feel motivated to go, you will always feel better after you do. My advice is to also schedule it is, and pair it with something you are already habitually doing. For example if you are always eating breakfast, commit to going before or after. This will help you to create a new habit or routine. Not a morning person? Then try to pair it with lunch or after work before dinner.
  • If your workplace will soon require you to return back to the office, head to your place of work and walk around to regain that comfort and routine. The same goes for those attending college/university or children who attend school and fear going back to the classroom.
  • Start socializing with others on the phone, video calls and gradually return to seeing them in person one at a time when you can.

Start off slow, and steadily work towards the more challenging activities until you can feel comfortable engaging with others in society again.

Coping Strategies to Help Reduce Anxiety

There are many safe, effective, and natural ways to help cope with anxiety, whether you have been dealing with social anxiety for some time or if this a new onset of the pandemic. Psychologists note that avoiding these issues can have the opposite effect than what you would want and only provide a temporary sense of relief while in the long run actually lead to an increase in anxiety. So getting clear on what you can do to ease your anxiety and taking action right now is important.

Exercise

Exercise has long been known to benefit our overall health and no matter your age, current physical activity, weight, abilities, or size, even small amounts of exercise have been shown to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, reduce tension, and boost overall mood.

If you are unsure how to begin to increase your physical activity and are anxious about going too far from home, try these simple changes to your daily routine so you too can reap the benefits of physical activity.

  • Engage in active family playtime. Any game that gets everyone up and moving counts!
  • Catch up on household chores such as cleaning out the closet. Vacuuming is also physical activity.
  • Mow the grass, go for a walk, or take a bike ride.
  • Make television watching more active by doing jumping jacks or push-ups during the commercials.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a form of calming your mind to increase focus, reduce stress, ease tension, and reduce anxiety levels. It has been scientifically shown to help alleviate the chaos that can crowd our minds, especially when faced with a fearful or anxious situation.

Using meditation to ease anxiety takes practice as in the beginning it may be difficult to calm our racing minds while diving deeper into our inner selves.

Try these mindfulness techniques that can help ground you when feeling anxious and out of control:

  • Deep breathing exercises. Breathe in for five seconds, hold, breathe out for five seconds. Repeat 5 times or until you feel more calm.
  • Visualize calming places like a beach, the lake or somewhere you have fond memories.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Each morning or evening, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Reach for this and read back on your thoughts to stay positive.

Supplements and Natural Therapies

Many people turn to medication in an effort to manage anxiety but the reality is the side effects from medications can have their own impact on overall health. Natural supplements like adaptogens can help you cope, reduce depression, help with sleep and keep your system balanced while you are working through new and past anxieties. Speak with your natural health practitioner to find out what supplements will work best for your unique body.

Smells and aromas have a way of triggering memories and many plant oils have a calming effect on our body and mind. Lavender for example has been shown to reduce heart rate in the short term and help to ease sleep issues in the long term.

Do Things That Bring You Joy

Remind yourself of all the things that bring you joy and can help soothe your feelings of anxiety. Watch a funny movie or TV show, read a good book, or learn a new skill.

If you have pets, they can be a great comfort and you can rely on them for emotional support and calm your anxious feelings. Plus, walking a dog routinely outside can help ease you back into socializing with others.

Set Boundaries & Goals

How you choose to reintegrate into ‘normal’ life is your own personal choice. You may be comfortable visiting friends in an open area such as a park, but uncomfortable socializing indoors. Make a list of what you feel comfortable doing and express your fears and concerns with your loved ones so they can clearly understand your needs.

Go a step further and record your feelings, emotions, fears, goals, and expectations in a journal or diary. Often when we see our thoughts on paper, they are easier to face and approach with a calm mindset.

Lastly, be open minded and allow yourself to be friendly (you never know if others are feeling the same way as you). While you need to have empathy for yourself and validate how you feel it’s important to understand that many people are dealing with this reemergence too and are equally anxious about what it all entails.

Can You Achieve an Anxiety-Free Return to Society?

Peer pressure exists in all stages of life so always remember you have the choice to say “no” when a situation makes you uncomfortable. Your optimal health and mindfulness are vital to re-engaging with society, therefore, when feeling anxious or stressed, try the methods above to calm your mind and release your body from the fight or flight mode.

There are, and always will be, stressors in your life. Re-engaging your inner peace by actively recognizing your anxiety triggers will allow you to focus on moving past them. Knowing your own values, fears, hopes, and future goals will help to set your mind on a new course allowing you to act on resolving your anxiety.

If you are finding your anxiety is increasing, affecting your relationships with others, or controlling your life, don’t hesitate to give us/me a call to schedule a consult. There are natural ways to help manage your stress and keep your body balanced so these new stressors are not taking control.

References

Bohlmeijer  E, Prenger  R, Taal  E, Cuijpers  P.  The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: a meta-analysis.  J Psychosom Res. 2010;68(6):539-544.

Hofmann  SG, Sawyer  AT, Witt  AA, Oh  D.  The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: a meta-analytic review.  J Consult Clin Psychol. 2010;78(2):169-183.

Blessing, E.M., Steenkamp, M.M., Manzanares, J. et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics 12, 825–836 (2015). 

Li-Wei Chien, Su Li Cheng, Chi Feng Liu, “The Effect of Lavender Aromatherapy on Autonomic Nervous System in Midlife Women with Insomnia”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 740813, 8 pages, 2012.

Claire Thompson, Maria C. Mancebo, Ethan Moitra,

Changes in social anxiety symptoms and loneliness after increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Psychiatry Research, Volume 298, 2021, 113834, ISSN 0165-1781.

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