Ask how you can be helpful to your friend while they’re feeling anxious.
For more than a year, we’ve been avoiding most social situations to stay safe from the coronavirus. But with the arrival of vaccines comes the prospect of getting back to our normal social routines, from family gatherings to chatting by the water cooler and going to happy hour.
While many people are jazzed to jump back into the social scene, others may find themselves overwhelmed by the thought of pre-pandemic-type socializing.
If that’s not true for you, it may be the case for someone you know. After all, social anxiety is the second most common anxiety disorder, affecting about 15 million American adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Here, mental health experts explain how to support your friends and family if they’re struggling in social situations right now.
1. Normalize Their Feelings
Reinforce the idea that it’s perfectly natural, and OK, to feel extra anxiety as we re-enter social situations after largely avoiding them during the pandemic, says Dave Carbonell, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
And reassure your loved one that you’ll be present to help them feel supported while they work through it, Carbonell says.
Similarly, you can also help normalize the need to seek professional help, says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a NYC-based neuropsychologist and professor at Columbia University.
This past year was challenging for everyone. And it may have overwhelmed our usual coping mechanisms. Let your friend or family member know that seeing a therapist can be a helpful way to manage all these anxious feelings.
But don’t push the subject. “Everyone feels differently about dealing with anxiety, so it is impossible to know how someone may react,” Hafeez says. “So, be patient and respect your friend’s boundaries.”
“Rather than telling someone to move past feelings of anxiety or pushing them into a situation, asking how you can help is the right way to assist,” Hafeez says.
If you’re together in a social situation, validate your friend for showing up by saying something like “I think it’s great you’re willing to do this,” Carbonell says. Then ask, “How can I be helpful to you while you’re feeling anxious?”
Don’t couch your question in terms of comfort (i.e., how can I make you feel comfortable?). “Doing what’s most comfortable would probably be not going at all or leaving right away,” Carbonell says.
In other words, you simply want to acknowledge that there will be discomfort and lend your support to help them manage — not avoid — the feelings.
3. Help Them Find Ways to Engage
“If your friend is at all open to this …….