Now that we’ve been living through a pandemic for almost a year (or more depending on where you live), I have a good read on the types of articles that are being written about this moment in time. A category that I see more than I’d like are stories about how life is “different” now. Whether it’s getting more meals delivered than you ever thought possible or logging on for an online game night, it’s clear that socialization isn’t the same right now. But some things persist in a COVID world, and as it turns out, social anxiety is one of them. Even though life is mostly through a screen, I’m dealing with social anxiety at a higher rate than ever before – and I know I’m not alone in that.
Last year, when many offices went remote and people were going through that transition of being home more than ever before, I remember reading online that this was an introverts dream. Looking back, I understand how it might’ve seemed like the perfect setup. Only dealing with people through a computer screen? Choosing when and where to interact with friends and family? But as time went on, and it was clear that interacting through screens was going to be the norm for a while, I could see the clear disadvantage of being an introvert in this environment – and an even bigger disadvantage of having social anxiety in this environment too.
Social anxiety disorder is “a chronic mental health condition in which social interactions cause irrational anxiety. For people with social anxiety disorder, everyday social interactions cause irrational anxiety, fear, self-consciousness, and embarrassment.”Very Well Mind
Managing social anxiety disorder is no different than living with other mental health conditions where you have obstacles to overcome and work to do. However, it’s unique because social anxiety pops up in most social interactions, causing constant stress throughout the day. And in a world where almost every interaction is happening online, those worries didn’t go away because person-to-person interaction is down; the anxiety just goes from a conversation in person to one through a screen.
An easy way for me to refer to handing social anxiety is turning myself “off” and “on.” When I’m “off,” I’m not mentally prepared to interact with the outside world – I’m happy to listen and learn from others with the understanding that I don’t need to offer much. When I’m “on,” I’ve prepped myself for interaction. I know what the event is, if there are activities, how long I’ll be in it, and how much I think I’ll need to contribute. And while the upside is that I’m able to plan my interactions more in this environment, it also means that we’re vulnerable to social interactions that happen instantaneously because to put it bluntly, what else are you doing?
We all crave social interaction in one way or another – it’s human nature to want that connection, and it’s safe to say that we’re not getting the interaction we’ve needed in the past year. But one lesson I’ve learned is that social interaction looks different for everyone, and it’s important to meet people where they’re at now – more important than it used to be. There might be a different cause of it these days, but social anxiety persists. Fear of meeting new people continues. Getting the nerves before making a presentation on Zoom is just as real as an in-person presentation – in some cases, it could be even harder to manage.
Social anxiety persists in a COVID world because it will persist in any world where humans need to interact with each other. It might look different now, but the feeling remains the same. If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I get extremely (extremely) nervous before meeting new people. There’s some comfort in knowing that as much as Zoom can change things, those nerves will still be there. And they say anxiety can’t be helpful!
I’ve found it kind of hard to adjust to all the new ways of being social this year, and I know I’m not alone! What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to being “social” these days? Let me know in the comments!