Ways to Help Social Anxiety (Including Zoom Anxiety) During COVID

Kelly Carmody
10 min readOct 19, 2020
Photo by JJ Jordan on Unsplash

Some people were right on the verge of a breakthrough. You’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, every single day, doing things that stretch you just a bit more little by little. You’re trying to think of every way you can to help your social anxiety. It’s so painful, and you’re putting yourself out there in a way that you’ve never put yourself out there before.

You forced yourself to go to that networking event when all you really wanted to do was stay home. You even went up and talked to a couple of new people, although it made you feel like you were going to die. It was hard, but you felt so proud of yourself for all the effort you’d been putting in, and every painstaking inch of ground you’d gained.

How Lockdown Might Affect Social Anxiety

Then COVID hit. Everything you’d been forcing yourself to do for your own good, suddenly became impossible. At first it seemed like things might get back to normal relatively quickly, and you would be able to return to your social forays. Than it quickly became apparent that it would not. As the days dragged on, you began to feel like you were starting to lose all the progress you had made.

It started to feel a bit more scary to talk to people again. Traces of the anxiety began to creep back in. Maybe it even started to seem almost as hard to talk to people again as it did in the beginning. Not to even mention all the additional anxiety from the virus. And now how do you talk to people in these strange situations, 6 feet apart, with masks.

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This scenario is not an uncommon one, unfortunately. COVID-19 has affected those who suffer from all sorts of different anxieties. Social Anxiety is included. It might not seem to make sense at first, after all, shouldn’t those with social anxiety be experiencing LESS anxiety now that they don’t have to put themselves in social situations as much?

This is true in some respects, and COVID may make things seem a bit easier in the short term, without all of those constant social engagements to no longer worry about.

However, any short term relief will only be lost to all the opportunities for long term progress made. And many people will lose all or most of the progress that they had recently made, especially those who were just starting to break out of their shells. Then there are many other new opportunities for social anxiety to arise, that did not even exist before.

These may arise in the form of zoom, or phone fatigue. Some people do relatively ok in person, but find it much more difficult to interact with others over zoom meetings, or on the phone. Which is bad news if your social life suddenly becomes almost entirely comprised of zoom meetings and phone conversations.

Then of course, some people are feeling additional anxiety that they are going to lose all of their social skills, and are not going to know how to interact with their friends, when the lockdowns DO start to ease up.

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There are all the little interactions too, that we never had to worry about before. Someone asks you to stand farther away from them, and you feel embarrassed for making them feel unfomfortable. You aren’t sure how close you can get to people at the grocery store. When you walk by people at the park, even if it’s 10 feet away, you aren’t always sure if you should put on your mask or not, or if people are judging you for not wearing a mask.

Not to mention all the new opportunities for misunderstandings and friction with family and friends. People are on such different pages about safety and comfort levels with socializing, it can be very nerve-wracking to have these conversations with people.

Maybe your friend invited you to a giant wedding with 80 people who won’t be wearing masks, and you are trying to think of a way to turn them down politely, without destroying the friendship. Or maybe it’s the complete opposite situation, and you think the caution of your family member’s has been a bit excessive, to the degradation of their own mental health, and you’re trying to think of a way to break it to them.

For those with hearing challenges, additional challenges come with everyone wearing masks, it may be much more difficult to understand people than it was previously.

Roadblocks and stormy weather abound, on all sides.

How to Cope

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Don’t Cut off All Connections

Do not cut off social connections completely during COVID lockdowns. It may be tempting, and it may seem like the easiest option sometimes, but it is only going to make things more difficult in the long run. Force yourself continue reaching out to people, to help social anxiety in the long run.

The level at which you do this will depend on your physical comfort level with virus precautions. Some people feel comfortable going to the grocery store, or having socially distanced socializing sessions in person. Some people prefer to keep things completely virtual. Adjust your strategy to your comfort level.

Continue to maintain connections during COVID. If you are comfortable seeing people in person, then integrate occasional social visits into your routine, so that you can “keep the social wheels greased”. If you are not comfortable seeing people in person, then schedule regular zoom sessions with friends, or even better, several friends at a time, to keep your group skills sharp.

Practice Meeting New People, and Exposing Yourself (Virtually)

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If you don’t have a large group of friends that you can zoom with, or even if you do, if you struggle with social anxiety and are attempting to get over it, continue practicing your exposure therapy virtually.

Exposure therapy is where people face a feared social situation until their anxiety begins to decrease or the anxiety related experiences are disrupted. Especially if you felt like you were on the precipice of a breakthrough before, you can continue to expose yourself to new situations, even during lockdown.

Especially good situations for practicing exposure therapy online are trying online meetup groups, and introducing yourself to new people. You can go on a website like meetup.com, or citysocializer.com, and attend an event that interests you, such as yoga, self development, chess, board games, or anything else.

Practice introducing yourself to people either before or after the event has begun. Some specific events will even go over time to give people a space to chat and get to know each other. In addition to meetup groups, you can also practice exposure therapy in all sorts of different online forums and communities.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

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A lot of the time with social anxiety, it can be easy to rush to the worst possible conclusions about somebody’s attention, or what they are thinking about us. It is important to challenge these negative thoughts. Maybe we go to see an older family member, and they stay away from us and go wash their hands right away.

It would be easy to think “There is something wrong with me, I’m dirty and diseased, or I’m bringing sickness to them” Instead, we could challenge that thought with “It’s ok that they’re washing their hands, it’s reasonable that they would want to take precautions with their health in these times, and the issue is not with me personally”.

Or maybe we forget to put our mask on at the store one day, and a security guard reminds us to please put it on. Our first thought might be “Oh my god, I’m so horrible, how could I forgot to do that, what’s wrong with me, do I WANT to get all these people sick? They must hate me and think I’m so awful”.

We could replace that thought with a much healthier, forgiving thought like “It’s unfortunate that I forgot to put my mask on, but you know what, that’s ok, I’m human and I make mistakes, I’m sure that the people here forgive me and don’t think that I’m a terrible person”.

Seek Professional Help if You Are Really Struggling

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Of course, if you are having a really hard time with social anxiety, and nothing else seems to be working, you might want to try seeking professional help. Especially if you have severe anxiety about socializing, panic attacks when facing social situations, and feel completely out of control of those feelings.

You may want to try visiting a therapist, or psychiatrist, and/or visiting a virtual support group, for help with your symptoms.

Zoom Anxiety

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Zoom, Google Meets, Skype, all of the following software’s where we speak into a video camera recorder and microphone, see our little bubble video and those of others and can have group chats, present additional opportunities for anxiety. Although people did interact over Zoom before COVID, now it is pretty much our primary mode of interaction with each other, especially in a professional or academic environment.

Although some feel less anxious over Zoom sessions than they do in person, for others, Zoom presents plenty of new reasons to feel anxious. Not only do you have to watch others for their interactions, but now you have to stare at yourself as well, and are faced with all these new silences.

Part of the reason that Zoom sessions may provoke more anxiety for some people, is that they are not natural. They are more taxing for our brains than face to face meetings. In person we can automatically process non-verbal cues from people, but this becomes much more difficult in a Zoom session, we struggle to infer the cues, and that created a certain mismatch.

There is less natural room for chit chat and silences. In an in person meeting, we might spend more time without saying anything, or making light conversation, but in Zoom meetings, there is more of an incentive to cut right to the chase, and not waste any time. This can make it seem much more stressful than an ordinary in person socializing session.

People are also often uncomfortable being seen in their own environments. Maybe they have a messy room, and would prefer that the world doesn’t see their gym socks strewn across their bed. Also just conceptualizing all of the 40 little boxes strewn across your screen as people and figuring out when to respond to them all, turning the mute on and off, can anxiety inducing.

How to Combat Zoom Anxiety

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1. Build in some breaks for yourself. If you can help it, try not to take too many zoom sessions in a row.

2. Often, one of the major things that makes us anxious is looking at our own face so much, and gauging our own reactions is relation to everybody else’s. Hide yourself from view, so you have one less thing to worry about.

3. Have an agenda, have a clear purpose for what you want to accomplish in the meeting (it can help with social anxiety in general in relationships if you give yourself a clear role to fill, for example, my job in the next 10 minutes is to get to know this person as well as possible.

4. Have an icebreaker ready, or several icebreakers ready, things to say ready for when the conversation gets a bet slow.

5. Learn to read faces, if you can read people’s facial expressions better, this may help set your mind at ease a bit.

Conclusion

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Many people may have been right on the cusp of a breakthrough, when COVID struck. Just getting into the social rhythm, and then all of a sudden, it was no longer possible. Although COVID may seem like a great time for people with social anxiety on the surface, it’s actually not really so hot, and can set people back quite a bit, especially people who were interested in pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and making progress.

COVID has opened all sorts of strange new opportunities for social anxiety to strike. These include social anxiety from Zoom. However, it is possible to learn coping techniques to help social anxiety in the age of COVID, and continue trying exposure therapy and pushing yourself to meet people virtually in meetups and similar places online. All hope is not lost quite yet.

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