Understanding the Prevalence of Social Anxiety Post Covid

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably reshaped the world we live in. Industries crumbled, daily routines were disrupted, and the fear of contracting a virus upended lives. Amidst the chaos, the psychological toll on individuals soared, with isolation and social distancing exacerbating mental health issues like never before. Among these, the intensification of social anxiety and agoraphobia was notable.

Understanding the psychological impact of COVID-19 is crucial. Yet, many grapple with differentiating between agoraphobia and social anxiety. Fortunately, this distiction is more straightforward than it appears.

What Is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder marked by an intense fear of places or situations that could cause panic or the feeling of being trapped.

Individuals with agoraphobia often avoid public transportain, crowded venues, open spaces, and other scenarios where escape might be difficult. This fear-based anxiety can be debilitating, leading to a cascade of additional fears, such as the dread of becoming lost in unfamiliar settings. Ultimately, agoraphobia is about the struggle to feel safe in public spaces. Sufferers may require the presence of a trusted companion to venture out, and in severe cases, may become housebound.

Causes

Typically, agoraphobia develops from panic disorder. A panic attack in a public setting can cause the brain to associate that environment with panic, turning it into a trigger. For instance, a panic attack on the subway could make future rides a source of immense anxiety. Traumatic events, like witnessing a violent act in a public place, can also contribute to the onset of agoraphobia.

What Is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder involves overwhelming anxiety in everyday social interactions. Simple acts, such as ordering at a restaurant, can become Herculean tasks. This condition stems from the fear of judgment or ridicule by others.

It’s important to note that discomfort in social settings doesn’t necessarily equate to social anxiety. Personality and life experiences heavily influence one’s social comfort levels. However, social anxiety, disrupts normal life, affecting relationships, work, and education. Symptoms can include sweating, blushing, and a trembling voice, often worsening before significant events.

Causes

Social anxiety can emerge naturally or from negative experiences, such as bullying or trauma. These incidents can leave lasting impressions, affecting one’s ability to interact with others later in life.

Distinguishing Between Agoraphobia and Social Anxiety

As previously mentioned, agoraphobia causes someone to avoid situations where they could feel anxious. This fear is so intense that they’ll often do anything they can to prevent themselves from experiencing certain situations. For instance, imagine someone had their agoraphobia triggered by a traumatic experience at a movie theater.

This location is on the way home from school. They could take the long way home simply to avoid seeing the theater.

In contrast, social anxiety causes someone to feel afraid or anxious during normal social interactions. While people might avoid socializing due to this disorder, they aren’t necessarily overcome by intense fear.

People can often work through their social anxiety and function in situations that make them uncomfortable. The same can’t be said about people who have agoraphobia.

By definition, phobias are irrational. Even if the affected individual understands their fear is illogical, they could still experience negative emotions.

Seeking Treatment

Psychotherapy can be highly effective in teaching you skills to manage anxiety symptoms. Building a strong and trusting relationship with your therapist is essential for effective therapy. Working with a reputable mental health professional can help you better understand the root of your anxiety and gradually challenge yourself to face your fears.

Your therapist will help you reframe the way you think about your potential triggers. When looking for someone to treat you, consider a mental health provider who specializes in the full spectrum of anxiety disorders using CBT.

Ensure that you are open and honest about your feelings, thoughts and experiences when communicating with them.

Share your goals for therapy and any concerns you may have. Ask questions and seek clarification when needed. With enough vigilance, you should be able to find the best option for your needs.

Take Action ASAP

If you feel like you’re suffering from agoraphobia or social anxiety, it’s essential to take action as soon as possible. Pay attention to what your therapist says and show interest in their insights and guidance. Reflect on their feedback and suggestions. This will help you get your life back on track and avoid further issues you may have otherwise encountered.

Advanced Behavioral Health specializes in treating issues like social anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and many more. Dr. Suzanne Feinstein has been treating patients since 1995 and strives to exceed all expectations. You’ll learn more about how we can help when you get in touch with us today.

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