Social anxiety is maintained by the avoidance of feared social and performance scenarios. Psychologists typically advise their clients to confront their fears as part of treatment.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic you have no choice but to avoid social interaction for fear of catching or transmitting the virus. You can’t go to school, university, the gym, visit friends, attend parties, take a hobby class or play team sport. The only people you can interact with are your family, housemates or partner. If you live alone you may also find it is a very lonely existence.
Since the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have come into place, some social anxiety sufferers have told me they are concerned they are going to become more socially anxious due to their lack of social interaction.
Currently, in Australia we can still leave our homes to: work, exercise, attend medical appointments and purchase food and essential items.
I encourage everyone to go for a daily walk and if saying ‘Hello” to strangers as you pass them in the street would trigger anxiety, this is one real life exposure you can still do. You can make a point of saying ‘Hello” to every person you pass on the street. and try to smile, make eye contact and speak loudly and clearly.
If you are living in a household with other people, I suggest that you volunteer to be the person who: does the shopping, picks up the takeaway food, gets the takeaway coffees, etc.
Set yourself some specific goals to work on.
You need to develop an exposure hierarchy and start from the bottom and gradually work your way up.
For example, if talking to baristas triggers anxiety, think about what your safety behaviors are. Do you speak softly?, avoid eye contact?,say as little as possible?
Resolve to drop your safety behaviors each time you go get a coffee. You may not feel capable of dropping all your safety behaviors at once, but you can start by dropping at least one.
If you have to attend a medical appointment take advantage of the opportunity to make small talk with the receptionist and the doctor.
If you go shopping avoid using the self serve aisles at the hardware store or the supermarket and make yourself talk to the cashier. If you have to go to a shop to buy something ask the shop assistant a few questions whether you need the information or not.
If you fear making phone calls you can practice making phone calls. You can still have exposure to interacting with your friends if you use videoconferencing services like Zoom or Skype.
You now probably have a lot of spare time to read a CBT social anxiety manual, that in the past you never got around to tackling because you were too busy and there were more interesting things to do.
The Australian government has authorized that until the 30th September 2019 you can access telehealth psychological services via telephone or videoconferencing online. These sessions are bulk billed for Commonwealth concession card holders. If you are not eligible for bulk billed sessions you are still eligible for the Medicare rebate for these sessions.
Therefore you can start treatment for your social anxiety or get some booster sessions if you feel you have relapsed. Treatment is only a phone call or online chat away. Call 0429 88 3671 to make an appointment.