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Understanding social anxiety

And how to cope during COVID-19

Feeling nervous in certain situations is perfectly normal. Maybe you feel a rush of adrenaline before picking up the phone and dialing a new number. Or, you get anxious when you’re in the middle of a big crowd. However, if you are constantly afraid people are judging you or feel extremely self-conscious in social situations — and these feelings make daily life and performing routine tasks challenging — you may be experiencing something called social anxiety.

If you feel this way, you’re far from alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States and affect more than 40 million adults External Site, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Social anxiety affects around 7 percent of Americans External Site, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People with social anxiety tend to avoid situations that they think may lead to humiliation, judgement, and rejection. This could be everything from using a public restroom, eating in front of others, and making small talk with the grocery store clerk to meeting new people, dating, or giving a presentation at work.

And now, with societal expectations and rules constantly changing because of COVID-19, even people who don’t normally grapple with social anxiety might find themselves experiencing several of its symptoms — especially after months of limited contact with others.

Whether you’ve been feeling extra anxious recently or have dealt with social anxiety for years, here are a few tips to cope.

Go at your own pace

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely disrupted our daily lives and routines for months on end. Even if you’re a normally social person, a lack of interaction with others for an extended period may make it difficult to resume the activities you did before the pandemic. Or, you may be nervous about ending self-isolation, especially with the constantly changing advice from public health officials.

Our advice? Take it day by day and socialize at your own pace. If you choose to leave your home, make sure you understand the risks and take basic safety precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and putting some distance between you and others. If your employer is requiring you to return to work (or if you were never able to work remotely in the first place), focus on things that you can control to keep yourself healthy and try to not let yourself become anxious about the behavior of other people.

Be kind to yourself

It’s easy to think that people are judging you for every little thing, whether you’re out for a quick stroll without a mask on or accidentally went the wrong way down a one-way aisle at the grocery store. Just like with other anxiety disorders, practicing self-care and resilience External Site is important to feeling better.

If you find yourself on a downward spiral of anxiety, set aside a few moments for deep breathing or meditation. Acknowledge why you’re feeling anxious, embarrassed, uncomfortable, or ashamed, then allow those feelings to pass without judging them External Site. And remember: You can’t control what others think of you, but you can control what you think of yourself.

Seek professional help

Sometimes, taking a few deep breaths isn’t going to help relieve your anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety to the point that it’s affecting your day-to-day life, a mental health professional can help. The good news: You don’t even have to leave your house to get care. Doctor On Demand® External Site is a virtual visit service available to some Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members, with board-certified physicians and licensed therapists and psychiatrists who are able to treat a variety of common ailments and prescribe medication if needed. Just make sure to log in to myWellmark® to check your benefits Opens New Window before seeking care.

If you still prefer in-person visits, you can also use myWellmark to find a mental health professional Opens New Window in your network and check your benefits before you seek care.

Live healthier during COVID-19

The coronavrius pandemic has changed the way most of us go about our daily lives. We'll help you navigate the ups and downs of this new normal with helpful content right here on Blue. Just go to the coronavirus tag for the latest stories that will help you live healthier during the pandemic.