For people with social anxiety, lockdown is 'a double-edged sword'
We know that the pandemic has had a far-reaching and irrevokable impact on our minds – so much so that it may have changed the very fabric of our society altogether.
Counselling Directory member Amy Drake previously told us that lockdown may have resulted in a ‘new constructed society’, adding: ‘Our basic knowledge of how society functioned almost three months ago has changed now, as we collectively live out our new norm.’
With society and social protocol having changed so drastically, and with ongoing restrictions seeing us hanging out with no more than six people at a time, it’s little wonder that mental health professionals think that those with social anxiety will not emerge from the pandemic unaffected.
Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman tells us: ‘For people with social anxiety, lockdown will be deeply anxiety-provoking in one way, and yet a relief in another.
‘However, inevitably it will lead to feelings of isolation and those may be very hard to come back from once we find a way forward in living with Covid.’
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Beverley further explains why lockdown’s changes to societal norms and socialising could actually be a ‘double-edged sword’ for those with social anxiety by saying: ‘It’s increasingly difficult to socialise – we cannot see people in large groups, meaning a person with social anxiety cannot “hide” while socialising in the way they may have been used to.
‘This is a double-edged sword – while, on one hand, a person with social anxiety may feel relieved that they no longer have to socialise in person, they also may feel that they have lost the opportunity to socialise with the people they feel safe and secure spending time with, meaning that they feel a new level of isolation and a different level of anxiety about socialising in any form. Without the security of those they feel safe with, self-confidence may very well decrease rapidly.’
Dr Daria J. Kuss, associate professor in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, says people with social anxiety might not enjoy social obligations and expectations starting up again as lockdown eases.
She tells us: ‘Following the lockdown, people in this country were allowed to meet up again, which for individuals with social anxiety may have led to stress and worry.
‘They may not be comfortable being expected to be “social” again, especially when in larger groups, and may worry about saying the wrong things and asking the wrong questions as they are reintegrating into their offline social lives.’
Dr Joan Harvey, senior lecturer at Newcastle University, tells us that the height of lockdown may have provided a bit of a break for people with social anxiety, saying: ‘There has been less pressure to mix, so that eases things a bit.’
She added: ‘Social anxiety would be worse when interacting with people you don’t know, and that will surely be happening less at the moment.’
However, Beverley also says our even bigger reliance on social media and digital communication in the midst of lockdown could have a negative impact on people with social anxiety.
She says: ‘For some people with social anxiety, communication by media can be even harder than communication in person: we know that words form only roughly 7-10% of the way in which we communicate and that we rely on body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and numerous nuances and unconscious cues behind words to convey our thoughts and feelings.
‘Without these, can we be sure of being understood, and of not having our communications misconstrued, when they are just black words on a white background? For someone with social anxiety, the notion of just writing something down in a message or email can be much, much harder and more frightening than communicating it in person.’
She adds: ‘For those with social anxiety, not being in the same room as someone and being on, for example, a Zoom date, can be much easier – the sense of distance created by being online brings about more of a sense of personal control and safety and hence less anxiety.
‘Given that they are also “meeting” their date in the comfort of their own home, might this bring about a gentler transition to meeting their date in person when the time comes? For the same reasons, difficult meetings online may also be easier than doing them in person, as there is less chance of picking up on others’ emotions which may feel quite overwhelming to someone with social anxiety.’
When it comes to what people with social anxiety can do to feel better as the lockdown situation continues to shift, Dr. Kuss says: ‘I recommend being open and honest with their social environments – friends and family will empathise when the concerns are voiced openly.
‘Engaging in focused breathing and relaxation may also help alleviate recurring feelings of worry and discomfort.
‘Finally, increasing awareness of negative thinking (e.g., “I don’t know what to say”) may help changing maladaptive cognitive patterns by replacing them with positive ones (e.g., “I am good enough” and “My friends want to see me”).’
Need support for your mental health?
You can contact mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463.
Mind can also be reached by email at [email protected]
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