Does the prospect of daily Zoom calls and virtual meetups make you feel overwhelmed and anxious? We asked an expert how to deal with it.
In some ways, lockdown has offered people who live with social anxiety a break from some of the situations they find most stressful. Gone is the expectation to spend a night in a crowded bar or mingle with colleagues at a big work event – with social distancing rules making face-to-face contact less frequent, you’d think that lockdown has offered people with social anxiety a bit of respite from the pressures of day-to-day life.
This isn’t quite the case. You see, just because there’s no social contact, doesn’t mean there isn’t still an expectation to keep in contact with people.
Now, instead of work meetings, there’s endless Zoom calls to contend with. Instead of meeting up with a few colleagues for after work drinks, there’s hundreds of “virtual drinks” to attend – all in one night. And instead of hanging out with friends and watching a film, there’s a virtual pub quiz to get involved with. The list goes on and on.
All of these things are, of course, great fun for many people. But for those people living with social anxiety, they can also be massively anxiety-inducing.
Even people who don’t regularly experience social anxiety have said they are finding the number of calls and virtual dates they’re being asked to join rather overwhelming. Lots of people are also reporting that virtual socialising is leaving them completely exhausted, because being able to see themselves on the screen makes themselves feel self-conscious.
Described by the NHS as a “long-lasting and overwhelming fear of social situations,” people with social anxiety often feel “overly worried” both before, during and after a social event. It’s important to note that social anxiety is more than shyness – it’s characterised by a fear of judgement – and that just because our social lives are now being played out online, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel socially anxious.
“You can experience social anxiety as a result of video calls,” explains Eugene Farrell, mental health lead for AXA PPP healthcare. “This is a social situation, albeit remote and digital, and one that potentially has a performance aspect.
“You may not be judged at all, but create this in your mind as if it were real.”
With this in mind, we asked Farrell for his advice when it comes to recognising and dealing with social anxiety on video calls. Here’s what he had to say.
What are the symptoms of social anxiety?
According to Farrell, social anxiety – or social phobia, as it is sometimes called – is “a fear or dread of being judged by other people” as a result of “not meeting their standards, being embarrassed, humiliated, ridiculed or rejected”.
The common symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Nervous hand shaking
- Muscle tension
- Hot flushes
- An urgent need to urinate
- A possible panic attack
People with social anxiety may also fear that other people may notice their symptoms and find out how they’re really feeling.
“Sometimes people might adopt safety behaviours such as wearing a particular item of clothing or using make up to conceal blushing,” Farrell explains. “Other safety behaviours might include looking away when talking, or covering the face with hands.”
What’s the best way to deal with social anxiety?
According to Farrell, there are a number of different ways to deal with feelings of social anxiety.
Although it may feel like the best way to deal with social anxiety is to avoid the situation that’s making you anxious, doing this is likely to make your feelings worse in the long run. Indeed, Farrell explains that we shouldn’t avoid social situations, but instead take some time to recognise any signs and symptoms of social anxiety we may be experiencing.
“Try to understand the thought or thoughts occurring that are most responsible for the feelings you are having,” he says. “It is these thoughts that drive the feelings you’re experiencing.
“Examine what the facts are to support your thoughts – usually there are no facts, just feelings, and we are believing those feelings to be true when they’re often not. Sometimes we don’t have facts so we jump to conclusions or make up things.”
With this in mind, if you find yourself thinking “everyone’s judging me” or “no one really likes me”, take a step back and analyse whether you’ve got any facts to back up these points. The likelihood is that these thoughts are coming from a place of anxiety; once we identify this, it makes it a lot easier to dismiss those negative thoughts and rid yourself of the uncomfortable feelings.
“By dismissing the thoughts we can interrupt this cycle and disrupt it,” Farrell explains. “Doing this creates a distance – almost like stepping away from the feelings – and allows a more reasoned and reasonable fact-based approach.”
Other techniques Farrell recommends include:
- Positive self-talk, such as “I can do this”, “I know my stuff”, “People like me”
- Rehearsing what you’re going to say
- Having some notes you can rely upon if you need them
- Writing down some things to say to questions you think might come up
- Focusing on breathing