7 Tips for Teens to Manage Social Anxiety As the World Reopens

Last March the thought of almost never leaving your house and basically only seeing your immediate family members was probably one of your biggest concerns as news about the coronavirus peaked and stay-at-home-orders were given. For many families there was a lot of turmoil and frustration as everyone learned to work and learn from home and all other usual outlets such as friends or sports or outings were stripped away. Now a year later though, most of us have found some kind of rhythm in our homes, made certain spaces our own and gotten used to a slower pace and seeing the same few faces in person each day. What if you’ve gotten so comfortable with quarantine living that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having to navigate all your social spheres again outside the virtual world?

For starters, you’re not alone. Many people of all ages are facing a different kind of social anxiety as we all begin to wonder how the world will be different when all our “normal” pre-pandemic activities resume. We’ve gotten used to wearing pants with elastic waistbands almost exclusively, to using filters on snapchat or “touch up my appearance” on zoom, or being able to simply keep our cameras off when being seen just feels like too much. What will it feel like to sit in a classroom of kids again and be fully seen, to be expected to be up and out the door first thing in the morning, or to have the freedom to actually go places with friends again? How will school have changed and how will you catch up from what’s been missed in the last year? Considering all the unknowns is what makes those feelings anxiety instead of worry, the unknowns causing us to feel out of control and not sure how to prepare. So where to start when the anxiety is causing you to want to stay virtual indefinitely?

Start Small

As with most things, the way to start is to start small. Consider reconnecting via text, social media, or Facetime with those you’ve lost touch with and miss. Choose one friend you’re most comfortable being around who has been outside of your Covid-bubble up to this point. Send them a text to see what their comfort level with hanging out is and any parameters they may have for seeing other people. Pick a time when you can meet up in the next week and plan for it to be a short outing.

Take the Pressure Off

Choose a low-key activity you could do together, maybe one that doesn’t require you just sitting across from each other and talking the whole time. Consider a walk or attending a sporting event or going to the mall. The outside stimulation can give more topics for conversation and make it feel more comfortable to not be constantly in conversation.

Think Ahead

Living in quarantine for the last year may still have every day feeling like Groundhog Day, so it can feel like you quickly run out of things to talk about because nothing is really new or exciting and you may not have a lot of plans to look forward to yet. Think about a few open ended questions that can keep the conversation going after you’ve caught up on the basics. Here are some examples to get you started: “What do you think you’ll miss most about virtual learning?” or “What are you most excited for this season?” or “Was there anything that surprised you this past year when we were stuck at home?” 

Don’t Overthink It

It can be easy to replay every interaction and second guess if what you said was weird or if the other person felt like you were being awkward. Remind yourself that everyone is learning to be around people again. When you start to replay an exchange, instead of judging yourself, tell yourself “I’m doing the best I can. Some awkwardness is worth it to be able to be around my people again.”

Decide What Matters

The pandemic has stripped away much of our usual routines and schedules and has offered an opportunity to start fresh and add back what actually matters to us. Maybe you’re realizing that you feel much more rested now that you don’t have a different after school meeting every day of the week. Maybe there are friends you haven’t talked to in the last year and you realize that you’ve had much less drama in your life. Be intentional about choosing which relationships you want to prioritize and consider what friendships you were maintaining or social commitments you were keeping just because you felt like you had to or because it seemed like everyone else was. Take a minute to name who matters most to you and what social activities actually bring you joy or make you feel like yourself and start there.

I’m Fine… It’s My Parents

Maybe you’re excited and pretty unconcerned about getting back into your usual routines and seeing your friends again regularly but your parents are more protective or more strict than you feel is necessary. Remember that these are changing times for your parents too and they’ve probably gotten used to always having you around. Try having a conversation to get clear guidelines on what they are okay with and what they’re not related to social interactions. Try to listen to understand and not to argue your point of view immediately. Express what is most important to you and be willing to communicate openly about where you’re going and who you’re with so that you can build trust. Expect the change to be gradual instead of all at once. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re trying to make decisions in your best interest and not just make your life harder. 

Ask For Help

If the feelings of anxiety are keeping you up at night or causing you distress for a few weeks, it may be time to reach out to a counselor to help you process and problem solve. At Milestones we’d love to connect you with a therapist who can walk alongside you and help you find strategies to keep the anxiety manageable and feel ready to connect with your friends and family. Give us a call at (443) 574-4295 or check out our website for more information!

We were built for connection as humans and this year has shown many of us just how valuable that connection is. Cut yourself some slack as we re-learn and re-emerge to not get every interaction perfect. It’s likely that whoever you're interacting with is second guessing themselves too.

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