BALTIMORE — Anxiety is something that affects all of us, and as we begin to see the light at the end of this tunnel that is the pandemic, there's another form of anxiety and stress that may be affecting a lot of people.
People that have social anxiety may be more hesitant to go out in social situations where there may be other people, explains Dr. Paul Nestadt, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Clinic.
"When that anxiety comes on, it can feel like any other kind of anxiety. It can be physical symptoms sometimes, shortness of breath or dizziness or just sort of an upset stomach," he explained. "But also it's mostly a cognitive feeling of worry. It's thinking a lot about maybe overthinking about how people are viewing you."
'What am I putting my hands in the right place? Am I standing the right way? Am I saying the wrong thing?' These are the types of things that could be going through a persons mind, and it can become severe to the point that there's problems with functioning.
Every human being has some level of anxiety in general and that can be better or worse in different times of your life.
Nestadt explains that there's also sort of the psychiatric pathology of social anxiety disorder, where it becomes so bad that it halts your ability to be happy, get things done or socialize.
"Certainly some people have a predisposition, whether you want to call it a genetic or biological predisposition or not to more anxiety and more social anxiety, but situations can make it worse," Nestadt said.
When you're in a situation where you haven't been socializing often, it can get you out of practice. Anyone, Nestadt says, whether there's a pathology, may start to become more anxious about getting back into something that they haven't done for awhile.
"A lot of people have sort of gotten out of practice, we all develop a set of coping skills or strategies, whether they're conscious or unconscious habits we get into to deal with things that make us uncomfortable or just to get used to things that take getting used to and we're out of practice there," Nestadt said.
He recommends easing into things that you haven't done for a while and be confident that with a little bit of time, those are going to come back.
You might be a little nervous when you go back into dating or going to events where there's crowded places, but its important to take things bit by bit until you're back to your full function.
Nestadt compares this to an astronaut coming back from space. When they return from space, they're not used to the gravity anymore and have to ease themselves in. When it comes to social anxiety, those social muscles are a little atrophied, so you just need to work bit by bit.
"If it's interfering with your functioning, if you're not able to be happy, if you're not able to get done the things you need to be getting done to live your life, meet people, interact with people, you know, be able to accomplish things in your job or your social life and your relationships. That's a pathology and if you try your best on your own and are unable to sort of get past certain steps, that's when you need to look for help from professionals," he reiterated.
One of the things that has both of a positive and negative impact on our mental health is social media, and its important to remember that everyone has responded to the pandemic differently. Do your best to not compare yourself to others as you see them return to normalcy. Everyone is different, everyone moves at their own pace.
You just need to do what YOU are comfortable with doing and as long as its not getting in the way of you being happy, don't drive yourself crazy.
The other important thing to note is that during the pandemic, people that have been struggling already, might be struggling as well from depression, which can be often co-morbid social anxiety, that depression can be exacerbated and in some cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Nestadt says that above all is the most important time to go and seek help. If you're having suicidal thoughts, things that life's not worth living or thoughts that you can't make it, you need to seek help.
If you're struggling with mental health in any way, we've provided some resources below:
If you’re struggling mentally or emotionally or having suicidal thoughts, call the state’s 24/7 helpline at 2-1-1 and press option 1. Text 898-211, or visit pressone.211md.org.
Find a therapist that offers telehealth at psychologytoday.com/us/therapists.
Crisis text line: Text HOME to 741741 for free, 24/7 crisis counseling.
Sheppard Pratt offers both a walk-in and virtual Crisis Walk-in Center. Click here or call 410-938-5302 for assistance.
Contact your local health department, or get help through Maryland’s Public Mental Health System (PMHS).