What to Do When Social Distancing Meets Social Anxiety

What to Do When Social Distancing Meets Social Anxiety

Tali Bell, PhD

Tali Ball, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her clinical focus is providing therapy to adults with anxiety and traumatic stress disorders. Dr. Ball also directs the Stanford Translational Anxiety Research Lab (www.stanfordstarlab.com), with current research projects on the neurobiology of social anxiety disorder and its treatment. 

Aliza Goldberg, MS

Aliza Goldberg, MS, is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium. Her clinical interests include anxiety disorders, emerging adulthood, and LGBTQ+ mental health, and her current research focuses on the implementation of exposure in social anxiety disorder treatment.

What to Do When Social Distancing Meets Social Anxiety

Share
No
Tali Ball, PhD and Eliza Goldberg, MS

You know that anxious feeling when you’re not sure what others think of you, leaving you with a sneaking suspicion that you’re making a fool of yourself? It’s called social anxiety. And while everyone has some social anxiety, for many, high social anxiety gets in the way of meaningful social connections and quality of life. 

So what happens when social distancing policies tell you to stay away from people? For those with high social anxiety, this likely comes as a big relief. However, even though less pressure and opportunity to socialize may ease anxiety for the time being, the reality is that the best way to beat social anxiety for good is to stay engaged with meaningful social activities, even when you feel anxious.

Why does staying engaged help? Decreased social contact lets anxiety incubate and makes it harder to make and maintain progress. Research shows that the more you avoid what you fear, the more anxiety builds up over time, making it even harder to engage going forward. Also, avoiding social interaction can cause isolation and loneliness, which increases the chance of developing depression. 

What to do

  1. Be kind to yourself. Even if social anxiety is low, other types of anxiety may be high due to changing daily routines, financial stress, and uncertainty around health and safety. Recognize the sources of your anxiety and try to balance short-term soothing and self-care activities with occasional nudges outside your comfort zone that can help you make long-term progress towards overcoming social anxiety. 
  2. Remember your long-term goals. When this crisis has passed and you resume your usual activities, what specifically would you like to be able to do that social anxiety typically gets in the way of? Initiate social plans? Speak up at work? Go on dates? It may help to focus on one or two long-term goals that are most important for you, even if it may take a while to get there.
  3. Take small steps now. Based on your long-term goals, what small steps could you take right now? For example, if initiating group social plans is important to you but you typically avoid it, start by reaching out to one friend or family member to schedule a video chat. After practicing that a few times, move on to initiating a virtual get-together for two or three people. The goal is to create a series of mini-challenges for yourself to do things that you know are safe, that will improve your quality of life, but that you typically feel some anxiety while doing and/or tend to avoid altogether. Before each mini-challenge, try to figure out what you’re most worried will happen, and afterwards, reflect on what actually happened. Was the outcome you feared as likely or as catastrophic as you thought it would be? 
  4. Adapt for social distancing. Take a moment to assess what aspects of your current life circumstances may be causing social anxiety as well as what activities you may be unnecessarily avoiding because of social fears. If use of technology (e.g., video conferencing, phone calls) increases anxiety, it can help to practice using the technology without a social anxiety challenge first. Alternately, if use of technology makes social situations easier, use this as an opportunity to really challenge yourself, perhaps by making a small mistake on purpose to see if it’s as bad as you thought it would be. And remember: when you hear social distancing, think distant socializing!
  5. Celebrate your accomplishments. Stepping out of your comfort zone to challenge anxiety is hard. You should expect to feel anxious when doing these exercises, and that’s okay! Make sure to notice what you learned (e.g., “it’s not as bad as I thought”) and celebrate your successes, no matter how small. 

If you want more: Check out ADAA’s find a therapist feature to connect with a clinician who can give you personalized guidance and support.

Tali Bell, PhD

Tali Ball, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and an Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her clinical focus is providing therapy to adults with anxiety and traumatic stress disorders. Dr. Ball also directs the Stanford Translational Anxiety Research Lab (www.stanfordstarlab.com), with current research projects on the neurobiology of social anxiety disorder and its treatment. 

Aliza Goldberg, MS

Aliza Goldberg, MS, is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium. Her clinical interests include anxiety disorders, emerging adulthood, and LGBTQ+ mental health, and her current research focuses on the implementation of exposure in social anxiety disorder treatment.

Use of Website Blog Commenting

Use of Website Blog Commenting

ADAA provides this Website blogs for the benefit of its members and the public. The content, view and opinions published in Blogs written by our personnel or contributors – or from links or posts on the Website from other sources - belong solely to their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ADAA, its members, management or employees. Any comments or opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors only. Please remember that the open and real-time nature of the comments posted to these venues makes it is impossible for ADAA to confirm the validity of any content posted, and though we reserve the right to review and edit or delete any such comment, we do not guarantee that we will monitor or review it. As such, we are not responsible for any messages posted or the consequences of following any advice offered within such posts. If you find any posts in these posts/comments to be offensive, inaccurate or objectionable, please contact us via email at [email protected] and reference the relevant content. If we determine that removal of a post or posts is necessary, we will make reasonable efforts to do so in a timely manner.

ADAA expressly disclaims responsibility for and liabilities resulting from, any information or communications from and between users of ADAA’s blog post commenting features. Users acknowledge and agree that they may be individually liable for anything they communicate using ADAA’s blogs, including but not limited to defamatory, discriminatory, false or unauthorized information. Users are cautioned that they are responsible for complying with the requirements of applicable copyright and trademark laws and regulations. By submitting a response, comment or content, you agree that such submission is non-confidential for all purposes. Any submission to this Website will be deemed and remain the property of ADAA.

The ADAA blogs are forums for individuals to share their opinions, experiences and thoughts related to mental illness. ADAA wants to ensure the integrity of this service and therefore, use of this service is limited to participants who agree to adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Refrain from transmitting any message, information, data, or text that is unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, that may be invasive of another 's privacy, hateful, or bashing communications - especially those aimed at gender, race, color, sexual orientation, national origin, religious views or disability.

Please note that there is a review process whereby all comments posted to blog posts and webinars are reviewed by ADAA staff to determine appropriateness before comments are posted. ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit a post containing offensive material as defined by ADAA.

ADAA reserves the right to remove or edit posts that contain explicit, obscene, offensive, or vulgar language. Similarly, posts that contain any graphic files will be removed immediately upon notice.

2. Refrain from posting or transmitting any unsolicited, promotional materials, "junk mail," "spam," "chain mail," "pyramid schemes" or any other form of solicitation. ADAA reserves the right to delete these posts immediately upon notice.

3. ADAA invites and encourages a healthy exchange of opinions. If you disagree with a participant 's post or opinion and wish to challenge it, do so with respect. The real objective of the ADAA blog post commenting function is to promote discussion and understanding, not to convince others that your opinion is "right." Name calling, insults, and personal attacks are not appropriate and will not be tolerated. ADAA will remove these posts immediately upon notice.

4. ADAA promotes privacy and encourages participants to keep personal information such as address and telephone number from being posted. Similarly, do not ask for personal information from other participants. Any comments that ask for telephone, address, e-mail, surveys and research studies will not be approved for posting.

5. Participants should be aware that the opinions, beliefs and statements on blog posts do not necessarily represent the opinions and beliefs of ADAA. Participants also agree that ADAA is not to be held liable for any loss or injury caused, in whole or in part, by sponsorship of blog post commenting. Participants also agree that ADAA reserves the right to report any suspicions of harm to self or others as evidenced by participant posts.

RESOURCES AND NEWS
Evidence-based Tips & Strategies from our Member Experts
RELATED ARTICLES
Block reference
TAKING ACTION
As a Twitch Streamer,  a live-streaming platform for gamers, I plan to give back to people who are…

Advertisement