The new normal isn’t easy for kids – social anxiety is more common

classroom of 4th grade students. social anxiety.

As more adults work from home and kids participate in school online, we must keep boundaries between blending work life and home life. If our brain is not given other avenues of release, laughter, and relaxation, our autonomic nervous systems don’t get a break from being in an altered state of “fight or flight.”

Some things you can control in an uncontrollable situation are as follows. Minimize the amount of news that is consumed in a day, limit social media overall, get outside, reach out to friends either online or outside, ask your children how they are feeling and coping with managing their emotions, take breaks during the day, find laughter through stories or videos, eat healthily and sleep as well as possible. Most importantly, seek outside therapy to assist you or your child in managing these emotions with guidance and understanding.

Are your teenagers or younger children having trouble getting back to “normal” as we emerge from the pandemic? The isolation that many of us felt during long periods of closed schools and social distancing has persistent effects even as we are able to move towards pre-pandemic routines.

Bill, an ambitious high school senior, came to me for help after he experienced social anxiety once school fully reopened. Before the pandemic, he looked forward to meeting up with friends in and after school. During the lockdown, he was just eager to get back to being a regular teenager. Once school reopened, however, he discovered that he felt very anxious around people. In class, he wouldn’t speak up in class and he just skipped after-school activities and ignored his friends’ invitations. 

The effects of the pandemic persist, in elevated levels of sadness, social anxiety, lower self-esteem, and low motivation. For many of us, and for many of our children, social interactions have become a new source of stress. During the pandemic, your children had less opportunity for social engagement. Are your kids having a difficult time dealing with groups and difficulty socializing?

Social anxiety has become more common

As people, we are built for being together: in extended families, social groupings, school friends, and work colleagues. Yet, emerging from lockdown has engendered more anxiety for many people.

If you internalized the idea that social situations are dangerous for you, or for people in your family, your brain might not just switch back once being with other people becomes safe. The “brain training” that socializing is dangerous might not just disappear even after it becomes safe to go back to school and to socialize.

Bill habituated his brain to associate “group” with risk and “isolation” with safety. When school reopened, his brain continued sending out danger warnings!

Psychologists refer to the experience of getting your brain used to avoiding a behavior as habituation. When repeatedly isolated without experiencing harm, our brain gets habituated to the idea that isolation is safe. In a constructive example of habituation, a child who is anxious about taking the bus to school starts going on the bus every. As the experience works out okay, the brain will become trained that taking the bus is safe and the child will stop feeling anxious about taking the bus.

The pandemic created or aggravated anxiety challenges

When the pandemic was active, being cautious about being around people was a reasonable response. Habituation just makes it harder to get back to the “new normal”.

If your child (or you) had an underlying issue with social anxiety but managed to function nonetheless, isolating meant that the positive habituation of just being around many people just disappeared. Being in a classroom, riding the bus, playing sports, or stopping for pizza, all provide many opportunities for interacting with people. Each interaction helped train our brains with the message it’s okay to be around other people. When social interactions just stopped, your brain stopped getting the positive habituations needed to counteract your underlying anxiety.

Social anxiety can stop us in our tracks in class, at work, or in social situations.

Bill just couldn’t shake off the feeling that being in a group was threatening. He had the information to understand intellectually that it was safe to get back to routine, but he just couldn’t do it without feeling anxious.

Get effective help for anxiety as you get back to the new normal

What we learned through habituation can be unlearned in the same way. Re-habituation can be key to reducing anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and other strategies can help you take your life back.

In therapy, exposure therapy alleviated social anxiety rapidly. Talk therapy and mindfulness helped Bill learn lifelong coping skills. 

Reach out today for help. We can provide expert care to help you get your life back on track.