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Five tips to help with social anxiety

Professor Craig Jackson provides five tips to help you overcome social anxiety as lockdown eases and you return to the workplace.
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Photo of Professor Craig Jackson, of Birmingham City University

Five tips to help with social anxiety

Professor Craig Jackson provides five tips to help you overcome social anxiety as lockdown eases and you return to the workplace.
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Photo of Professor Craig Jackson, of Birmingham City University

With restrictions set to be lifted, you may be wrestling with lockdown fatigue and social anxiety over going back to the workplace. Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at Birmingham City University (BCU), offers some advice.

1). Go to your happy place if needed

The power of thought and our imaginations can be vast. We can all visit our happy places in our heads, even for just a minute, to distract us from troubling thoughts.

You are in active control of your mind, so think of a happy place and imagine the sensations, smells, sounds and tastes of the things you enjoy.

Taking regular ‘happy place breaks’ at work desks during those first few weeks may be essential in helping you get used to routine work again.

2). Accept things take time

Lockdown fatigue, insomnia, and even unusual and vivid dreams have been commonly reported over the past 12 months.

Sound familiar? If so, you’ve likely found yourself feeling tired and sluggish during the daytime, too.

You may have struggled to concentrate, found your physical activity reduced and wrestled with weight gain – all symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation.

Just because you may be returning to the workplace after lockdown doesn’t mean these problems will immediately go away. Workplaces will have to get used to this – workers will not be the same as they were.

You will need time to get used to putting in a full day’s work, especially after such a disruptive period.

3). Offer support and incorporate new measures

Life during the pandemic has demanded greater mental health awareness for staff across the globe. This will continue after lockdown, too, particularly during the first few weeks and months.

There are a range of tips to ensure you offer mental health support to your colleagues and employees.

Meanwhile, charities such as Birmingham MIND, Forward Thinking Birmingham and The Waiting Room offer expert guidance.

Furthermore, if there is one thing we have learned from the past twelve months, it is that a blend of remote and office working is highly welcomed.

According to a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of people would rather spend most of their working week at home.

If you’re in charge, consider incorporating more flexible working methods – staggered start times, flexible hours, power nap breaks and, yes, more home working.

Don’t be afraid to incorporate more radical changes, either. For example, you could consider ‘half-day closing’ for one day per week as a temporary measure, allowing fatigued staff to refresh themselves.

Depression and anxiety costs the world’s economy $1 trillion each year. As people adjust to life after lockdown, more mental health awareness should be at the top of everyone’s radar.

4). Slowly rebuild social connections

Many people will be feeling social anxiety over things they perhaps previously never worried about.

The thought of meeting people for food and drink, for example, may now seem an incredibly daunting prospect.

Surveys show two in five adults are feeling anxious about socialising again, while a quarter feel they have forgotten how to socialise altogether.

We have, for the most part, gotten used to social distancing and perhaps found it easier to practice and maintain than was initially thought.

To go from this, which has now become second nature, to close contact will be initially quite intimidating.

However, there is no need to reconnect with every friend at once, despite any social pressure to do so.

Readjusting to life after lockdown should be a staged process. Have a plan and develop a schedule of social activities to avoid being overwhelmed. There is no need to go from 0 to 60 socially.

5). Stay vigilant and tolerant

For the past twelve months, we’ve been vigilant about social contamination, washing our hands and maintaining safe distances.

Many people take comfort in maintaining such routines. Perhaps it is a mental safeguard that allows individuals to go out and about when necessary.

The need for good hygiene will not go away post-lockdown. In fact, it is likely it will be even more important during those first few weeks of increased social contact.

As well as continuing handwashing habits, it might be helpful to encourage others to keep doing it, too.

If it is not something you are too concerned with, it does not mean you should embarrass those that are. Many people will only be able to cope with increased levels of social activity by using hygiene hypervigilance.

Show mental health awareness by supporting them and being respectful of their practices.

The same applies to social contact, from hugs to handshakes.

Twelve months of lockdown will not have erased the social urge and need for physical contact, but it may feel quite unusual and novel for some when it starts to happen again.

Struggling with social anxiety? Listen to Craig’s and Hugh Koch’s podcast, Living Thru Lockdown and Beyond, about dealing with life post-lockdown. You can also watch our Health and Wellbeing webinars free of charge to help guide and support you through difficult times.

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