How to combat social anxiety in a post COVID world
Since coming out of lockdown, I’ve found myself second guessing things I say in social situations. I’m naturally extroverted and have never had social anxiety, so this comes as a strange and unwelcome feeling.
I’ve wondered if other people feel this way. Am I the only person at the table wondering if I’ve said something stupid? Are other people reading their texts multiple times to make sure they sound okay? Is anyone else finding themselves overthinking simple interactions?
It has been a challenging couple of years of being collectively isolated and restricted by rules we’ve never had. There was a time we’d see smiling faces everywhere we went. These days, they’re covered by masks we’ve never worn before.
Many of us are working from home now, living in a world where we only see the top halves of our colleagues through a screen. Some people have been working with a new employer for six months and have never met them in real life. How tall is your manager? Who knows!
Working from home has been both freeing and draining. We no longer have to commute or wear pants every day, but we also don’t interact with colleagues, baristas or even shop owners as much as we used to. It’s changed our lives forever, but is it contributing to us overthinking our simple conversations?
What about the people not working in office jobs? The poor hospitality workers who had at least a year of not serving people. Do they feel strange behind the bar now? Do they wonder if they look funny shaking up that martini??
What about the masks? Where do I look when I can’t see if someone is smiling at me? Does that person want me to say hello? Is the bartender happy to see me? Have you ever made a joke they didn’t quite hear because of your mask and they’re like ‘what’ and you’re like ‘what’ and then you feel awkward getting another pint? It’s a strange new world, no wonder we feel weird.
Here’s an example of me second guessing myself over something rather silly:
I was chatting to a few friends in a group chat and one of them mentioned she is taking a magnesium powder supplement. I told her that’s cool and she should try liquid magnesium next time as it absorbs better. Then I started worrying if I sounded like an asshole. Did she think I was trying to top her story? Why did I tell her my magnesium is better than her magnesium? Do I sound like I’m out here trying to be a magnesium expert!?! Why did I say that, I don’t know anything about magnesium!!!
Later in the afternoon, after ruminating about the magnesium for hours, I sent a voice note in the group chat and mentioned I was (stupidly) worrying about my magnesium comment. I asked my friends if they second guess themselves more lately, or is it just me? Turns out I’m not alone.
They’ve been worrying about what they say too. Then I asked a different group of friends – worriers everywhere. It made me wonder if this is something we are all silently enduring in a post covid world.
After asking my friends about the dumb magnesium and if they’re also feeling weird, I feel better. Not because they are struggling too, but because I feel less alone. Less worried. Less second guessy.
Six tips that help in overthinking moments:
1. Think about the conversation from the other person’s point of view – do you really think they care about a little comment? People generally have lots going on and aren’t thinking about what you say as much as you.
2. Talk back to your negative thoughts as if your friend was saying them and you were responding. When I was worried about the magnesium, I was thinking “Oh my god you’re such a story topper!”. An appropriate response could be “Well you’re actually not, it was just some useful advice and story topping isn’t in your nature, so people wouldn’t think that of you”. See, much nicer.
3. Write down what you’re obsessing over. This is good for two reasons. Firstly, writing your thoughts slows your brain down as you can’t write as fast as you can think. Secondly, reading over them on paper can make you see how harsh you’re being to yourself! Obsessing over the conversation isn’t worth this stress.
4. When you’re with people, mention you feel a bit different when socialising since lockdown. I bet they have to! I told a work colleague I felt a bit nervous at a work a event and they felt the same. It was a well needed reminder to know it’s not just me.
5. Throw yourself in the deep end and go to as many social events as you can handle. Often repeating the behaviour we are most afraid of helps us. If you go to ten social events and they all turn out absolutely fine and you had a great time at each one, how do you think the 11th will feel? Fucking awesome and you’ll realise there is nothing to be afraid of because the other ten times were good!
5. Show yourself some bloody compassion! The past few years have no doubt impacted you and everyone around you. There’s no point adding a layer of shame or other emotion on top of feeling the way you do and beating yourself up over it.
I hope this has helped you in some way. If you’re worried about your magnesium conversations or something else trivial after a social interaction, I want you to know you’re not alone. I’ve felt this way many times. People don’t care about the magnesium and no one is worrying about what you say as much as you.
If you’re generally anxious, I wrote a neat blog on this here.
Yours in feeling weird,
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