If the thought of being around a large group of people is giving you butterflies, and not the good kind, you are not alone.
The prolonged isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created or made social anxiety worse for some people.
“The pandemic triggered my anxiety. I feel I’ve had these feelings all along. But the pandemic brought out the worst,” said Winnipeg resident Dax Guiboche.
The forced isolation has led people to become more and more comfortable being around fewer people, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Jay Greenfeld.
“Once they become comfortable with that, it’s really hard to change that,” he said.
“That becomes their preference and if they’re put in a situation where they have to reengage with more people, it becomes extremely overwhelming.”
Ordinarily, people would derive a great deal of their social interaction by going to work or school, an environment that typically forces people to be social. But once everything moved online, it was harder for them to interact.
“I have been working from home since the end of March 2020. It takes some time to get used to it and, during the closures, it was hard never leaving the house,” said Janet Rogocki of Winnipeg.
Now that everything is opening back up and events are for the most part back at full capacity, some people are still choosing to stay isolated.
“It is my choice. My anxiety has taken me over,” said Guiboche.
The comfort of being alone becomes so strong and feels so safe that people end up avoiding getting out and engaging, according to Greenfeld.
However, the problem is that prolonged isolation has some bad psychological effects.
“Now that Winnipeg is opening up, it has made me feel worse,” said Guiboche.
Once people take that step and begin to engage, they find there are many benefits to social interaction, such as decreasing stress.
“Because it provides different outlets for you, different ways to talk about certain things that maybe you haven’t talked about,” said Greenfeld.
“You might have been thinking about it for a couple of months but not having that space to actually talk about it with other people, it really becomes limiting.”
However, getting back out there is easier said than done and it’s important to take it step by step but try not to fear being uncomfortable and making changes.
“What they can do is confront that fear and confront that hesitation,” said Greenfeld.
“Even if initially they are going to be uncomfortable, they got to push themselves through that.”
Once people take that first step forward, they can start to see the benefits of being social but it can’t be a one-and-done situation. Being social is a skill and without practice, just like any skill, you lose it.
“Well I will do it on Monday and then if it’s too overwhelming, start to avoid it for another two weeks,” Greenfeld added.
“It’s gotta be routine, it’s gotta be often and it’s gotta be part of what becomes their norm.”
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