Stylist Magazine: pandemic social anxiety
Mental Health

Why am I feeling paranoid about everything I say?

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been waking up in a puddle of anxiety. Thoughts race through my mind about the night before: What did I say? Why did I say that? Do all my friends hate me now?

Take the last time I went for drinks with a mate. The conversation was moving fast – we covered lots of ground, from our romantic lives to politics to snippets of gossip we’d gathered over the past few months of lockdown. It was richer and longer than most of the chats I’d had in the past year, not to mention fun. But by the end of the night, I left the table with the lingering feeling that I’d said something wrong, something I’d regret, amid the flurry. Was my stance on that political issue basic or lacking in nuance? Was my comment about that person unfair or brash? When I arrived home, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nonetheless, I felt I needed to send a text to apologise.

This has been the story almost every time I’ve socialised since restrictions lifted – I’ve found myself spiralling in the hours that follow, sometimes actively taking a few duvet days to work through a carousel of anxious questions. What was going on with me? In the pursuit of answers, I fired off a few tweets about my problem: “Does anyone else have this new thing when socialising where you go home and worry that you’re cancelled for the next five days?” I was more than a little surprised by the response – it turned out many of my friends and followers identified with my sudden spike in post-socialising anxiety, specifically surrounding the fear of having said something silly.

Some people suggested this was a classic case of ‘the fear’ (the age-old side effect of a hangover that makes you worry you’ve said or done something awful while under the influence). Maybe this did play a role – after all, pubs, restaurants and park meet-ups had just returned, all spaces that can involve alcohol as well as long, winding conversations. But this didn’t go all the way to explaining it; my sense of dread was more pronounced than my pre-pandemic nights out, and even after sober meet-ups, the nagging feeling persisted.

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