Returning to ‘normal’ may not be so great for those with social anxiety

CBS4 This Morning

INDIANAPOLIS–For more than a year, we’ve been talking about the “return to normal.”

For many people, it’s something to look forward to; the promise of fully staffed work places, large gatherings, packed bars and restaurants–and no masks! While its completely understandable to want the return to normal, not everyone is on the same page.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 12% of U.S. adults will experience social anxiety at some point in their life. Just over 7% of U.S. adults had social anxiety disorder in the past year.

For those who deal with social anxiety, the pandemic, along with stay-at-home orders and social distancing may have had it benefits. That could also mean the prospect of “returning to normal” is daunting.

Danielle Henderson, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at IU Health, says for those that deal with social anxiety, the challenge of “reentry” might best be handled gradually.

We do this a lot with our patients in therapy is you make a list of those situations that you come up with and you make and think about your level of anxiety in each of those situations. And we don’t start with the one that causes the most anxiety, we start with the one that causes you the least anxiety and slowly work towards a plan to put yourself in those situations. Because with anxiety what we don’t want to do is we don’t want to avoid the situations that cause us,” Henderson said.

Henderson adds that avoidance can often lead to worsened social anxiety.

For the social butterflies who look forward to the return “normal,” Henderson says a mindful, and situational approach might be best.

Not everybody might be feeling the same way that I am. I’m eager to get back out there, but there might be some people I come into contact with, or who I’m friends with that maybe aren’t as eager to get back into the swing of things. So, I think just being mindful that people are probably approaching this differently. Maybe starting discussions about what people do feel comfortable with and if we’re going to hang out how could we do something so that everyone feels comfortable,” she said.

Regardless of what side of the coin you fall on this issue Henderson says there’s going to be an adjustment period as we move forward, with every interaction we have likely needing to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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