Are you ready for the world to open up again?


May 23, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic that rocked the entire world in 2020 is slowly coming to an end and we governments are laying out their plans to start opening up over the summer. However, as we begin to resume our old activities, some of us will continue to be affected by feelings of anxiety and depression.

Major crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic can have a negative impact on mental health, causing many to experience heightened symptoms of anxiety and stress. Understanding how you are affected by social anxiety related to the pandemic will help you adapt once the world reopens. In this article, we will discuss what social anxiety is and how you can learn to cope with it in a healthy manner. We will also cover how to help children who may be experiencing post-pandemic anxiety.

Understanding social anxiety

Social anxiety can manifest in a person’s day-to-day behavior in a multitude of ways. Behavioral and psychological symptoms of social anxiety can include:

  • Intense worrying about upcoming social events or gatherings
  • Avoidance of situations that involve interaction with others such as meetings, parties, or interviews
  • Physical symptoms such as sweating, dizziness, or increased heart rate

How Covid-19 has increased anxiety in individuals

The Covid-19 pandemic had immense and widespread impacts on the mental health of all people. A report from February 2021 revealed that 56 percent of Canadians surveyed expressed an increase in their overall anxiety and stress as a direct result of Covid-19.  Here are some common examples of how social anxiety may manifest as a result of Covid-fueled mental health struggles:

  • Nervousness or stress over the proper way to behave, such as following mask rules
  • Concern over the behavior of others and whether or not they are safe to be around
  • Difficulty re-adjusting to in-person situations, such as non-remote work environments

Tips for reducing symptoms of social anxiety

Getting back to normal will take time, patience, and self-compassion. If you are experiencing heightened social anxiety caused by the pandemic, remember that you are not alone and that there are many helpful tools and resources available. 

Here are 3 key tips for reducing social anxiety symptoms once the world reopens:

  • Ease back into social situations: Taking the time you need and moving forward at your own pace will be key in overcoming social anxiety brought on or worsened by Covid-19. Start by slowly expanding your current bubble of people, adding one or two people at a time until you feel comfortable rejoining larger gatherings of people. 
  • Nutrition and lifestyle: Your gut health can have a pretty big impact on anxiety! Being mindful of the food you put into your body and getting a proper amount of exercise can help to keep your anxiety levels lower, as your gastrointestinal system is closely connected to your brain. 
  • Online support groups: Re-adjusting to in-person situations and social gatherings may prove to be highly overwhelming for many who are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety. Online support groups that offer a remote community space for others who are experiencing similar issues can be extremely helpful for re-introducing socialization into your life without jumping head first into in-person situations. 

Social anxiety can be a difficult and challenging struggle but it does not have to be a life sentence. With the right tools, support and persistence you can learn how to tame your anxious thoughts and find joy in social situations again. The pandemic has increased anxious thoughts and feelings for many people. Social anxiety tends to increase when avoidance is used as a technique and unfortunately due to social restrictions over the last year social isolation hasn't been a choice. While this may have created temporary relief it also simultaneously has made reintegration harder. Through mindful based practices like deep breathing and grounding techniques, thought diffusion techniques, and working through uncomfortable feelings (this is where the magic happens) you can start the process of increasing your self confidence and engaging in social activities with more ease.

Samantha Barnes, Registered Psychotherapist, Barrie, Onatrio

Helping children dealing with post-covid anxiety

The pandemic was a confusing and disorienting event for many children, making it especially important to pay attention to how your kids are coping with the resulting post-pandemic anxiety.

According to a 2020 article published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, children are likely to experience a spike in symptoms or displays of anxiety due to the loss of activities that “provide structure, meaning, and a daily rhythm, such as school, extracurricular activities, social interactions, and physical activity.”  It is important during this time of recovery that parents and caregivers keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of anxiety or other mental health issues in children. Identifying issues that have the potential to develop into more serious disorders is the key for achieving early intervention. 

It is recommended to follow a similar approach to coping with Covid-fueled social anxiety in kids as you would adults – by slowly reintroducing them to socialization and social situations. This can be in the form of video chats or small get-togethers with other children. The key is to not rush a child, as they may take a bit longer than adults to re-adjust. Practice with small tasks, such as having children accompany you to the store or walk in a public park. 

Dealing with germ fear in children

When it comes to germ fear brought on by the pandemic, there are a few key ways to help children overcome this issue:

  • Validate their feelings: Invalidating how a child feels can make them feel isolated and misunderstood, exacerbating the issues further. Struggling with mental health has been an issue for almost everyone, children included. Thus, show children empathy and compassion when discussing Covid and germs. 
  • Correct misinformation: There is a lot of misinformation regarding Covid that children may have picked up along the way. Having semi-frequent conversations about the virus and what your child knows about it is a good opportunity to correct any false information they may have learned that is causing them heightened fear. 
  • Exposure and response prevention: Exposure and response prevention is a type of treatment within cognitive behavioral therapy. The treatment focuses on small and gradual exposure to what the person is afraid of in order to help them overcome that fear. Note that this treatment should be carried out by professionals and is not an at-home solution. 

Final thoughts and takeaways

As more and more people begin to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, the pandemic restriction finally appear to start easing – but are you ready for the world to open back up? 

If you are experiencing heightened anxiety and/or other mental health concerns, remember that you are not alone and that millions of others are experiencing them right alongside you. Coping with Covid-related social anxiety can feel difficult, but with the right coping tools and support you can learn to better manage your anxiety and reintegrate into post-COVID life. If your symptoms increase in intensity or frequency, consider contacting a mental health professional to discuss potential treatments and support.