Have you ever felt unnerved in a crowd? Stressed out from having to speak in a group? Suddenly panicked when facing a chance encounter? Deeply self-conscious around others or breathless in a packed space? Then you, like so many others, could be struggling with social anxiety. It might be something you have silently grappled with for years or a feeling that has crept up as we work our way out from under the pandemic. Whichever camp you fall into, you are not alone.
Pulling Back the Curtain
She might be a member of one of the world’s most famous families, but that hasn’t prevented Kendall Jenner from suffering the effects of social anxiety. She has recently partnered with Vogue to present an in-depth series on her experience and the steps one can take to manage it. While she acknowledges her own privilege, Kendall spoke of the importance of using her platform to highlight how crippling the effects of social anxiety can be and drive forward the conversation on overcoming it. Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula feels that by participating in sessions with her, Kendall is helping to “destigmatize all mental health issues, particularly anxiety, because a lot of people think they are alone with it.” According to Durvasula, social anxiety affects more than 40 million adults nationwide and is the most common mental health concern in the US – one that has only grown during the pandemic.
Post Pandemic Impact
A recent American Psychological Association survey found that 46% of U.S. adults don’t feel comfortable going back to living life like they did before the pandemic and 49% feel uncomfortable about returning to in-person interactions. These results reflect how the pandemic has increased feelings of social anxiety in the population, even for those who wouldn’t have considered themselves sufferers prior to 2020. Even Michelle Obama shared in a recent interview that she had experienced low-grade depression during the pandemic and that we need to be more aware of the ups and downs we face and to reach for the tools that can help us break through the dark. Covid-19 was a global event that generated a sustained heightened emotional state for everyone, putting our overall mental health at greater risk. So if you have been feeling the effects of increased or heightened social anxiety, there are things you can do to manage the symptoms and calm your mind:
ASK FOR HELP. We mean it. Please don’t ever be afraid to reach out and ask for help. We know it can sometimes feel hard to talk about our mental health struggles, but the more people that speak up, the more that changes. There are more resources available every day for you to lean on and access than ever before. There is the Mental Health America website and The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), which has a search tool on its website - just type in “social anxiety” and click on your state. The National Social Anxiety Center is an association of regional clinics throughout the U.S. You can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI open 10AM to 6PM (EST) Monday through Friday or visit online forums like healthfulchat.org chat room and Social Anxiety Support forum.
Talk to your friends and loved ones. Being open and honest about your social anxiety can be hugely beneficial. It can help alleviate stress for you and it lets those closest to you know what is going on. If they know you are struggling, they might be able to help, be more patient or at the very least be understanding when trying to engage with you during social settings. Just because you might not feel okay with meeting up in public, doesn’t mean you have to forgo chatting with those you care about most. You never know, one of them might be feeling the same way. The truth is, we are all far more connected than we think, with shared experiences and emotions, check out We’re Not Really Strangers to discover how close we can be.
Find your routine. Everyone is different and their experience of social anxiety will be too. That said, there are a range of things that can help you manage it that include exercise, nutrition, sleep, scheduling and goal setting. The key is to find the right combination for you. Social anxiety often stems from feeling out of control, so bringing a sense of control into your day will help significantly. Think about setting a routine of waking up, eating well and getting some fresh air. Give yourself plenty of time to schedule plans so that you can work out how to prepare in order to feel comfortable. You can use a tool like Fabulous to help you build healthier habits.
Don’t forget the happy. Taking time to do the things that bring us joy and indulging in selfcare should be daily tasks for everyone, but particularly for those who suffer from social anxiety. Take stock of the things that you do that make you happy or draw a smile, especially those that you can lean on if you feel overwhelmed. Perhaps that is a comforting TV show or a gripping podcast, a soothing album or journaling your personal thoughts. If you start to feel stressed, reach out for the things that have a calming effect. If you haven’t tried it before, guided meditation can have wonderfully calming effects. Check out the Calm App to get started.