Over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing norms and the new era of Zoom calling have altered people’s idea of attachment. While it has definitely led to an increase in health anxiety among people, psychologists say it has also led to a steep increase in social anxiety, especially among millennials.

They say 20-30 per cent of their clients are expressing concerns about meeting people offline. “The pandemic removed spontaneity from our social life completely, and as a result, even simple acts like grabbing a coffee have become a cause of anxiety among many,” says Afifa Kauser, a psychologist.

Psychologist and co-founder of Heart it Out, Nithya J Rao, has also noticed a similar trend among her clients, “A lot of our clients have been coming back with cases of social anxiety that they had never experienced before. Extroverts, who were okay with talking in front of a crowd and had no problem with social gatherings, find a room full of people extremely scary today,” she says. Isolation throughout the lockdown period changed the scenario completely for them.

“Spending so much time by themselves has made a lot of extroverts realise they could do with less social contact,” says Dr Sumanth T P, psychiatrist.

One such person is 28-year-old Vinay Shankar, medical student. “It made me realise that people drained me,” he says.

“As I spent a majority of 2020 being forced to not meet people, I realised that I had so much more time and energy to do other things. I have joined workshops, started reading and writing. Plus, I had way more time to focus on my studies and career.”

“Now that I’m used to this lifestyle, social situations cause anxiety in a way that they never did before, I’m way happier having conversations online now,” adds Vinay.

“In the long run, just living a life online will not be good for people’s mental health and can have a drastic impact on their relationships,” says Afifa.

However, the comfort that virtual interactions provide seems to have won over many.

“It’s so much more comforting to talk over the phone rather than meeting someone in person. It’s less effort and commitment but still gets the job done,” says Nivedha Sudhir, 23-year-old corporate employee, who too has found solace in isolation.

After staying at home and being exposed to only a limited number of people for almost a year, being social on a regular basis is a frustrating experience for others.

“My definition of interaction changed during the pandemic. In a physical set up, you can’t ignore a person if you are not sure how to respond to a situation. Online, you can mute yourself, turn the camera off or just put your phone aside,” she says. Nivedha says a social situation now causes her to either zone out or makes her anxious.

Meanwhile, people who already had social anxiety have seen their socialising skills wane. “It has caused heightened anxiety,” says Dr Sumanth.

Sourabh (name changed), product and consulting professional, said he is going through a period of heightened social anxiety right now.

“I am an introvert, but over time I had pushed myself to be more social and was well-adjusted in social settings. But six months into the pandemic, my natural self took over my trained self,” he says.

Sourabh recently met a friend but was unable to talk much. It is tough to tell friends how you are feeling as they have also suffered in their own ways due to the pandemic,” he adds.

Tips to deal with social anxiety

Afifa advises, “Set boundaries, it’s very important to let people know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.”

Nithya advises, “Firstly, just breathe. Learn to be vulnerable, share, tell friends what you’re feeling and teach others how to talk to you.”

Dr Sumanth advises, “Try meditation and breathing exercises. There are lots of techniques, figure out what works for you and helps you calm down.”

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