Anxiety and Opportunity

Reflecting on the Past, Navigating the Present and Imagining a Better Future

By: Hani Baumgarten, PsyD | Published: April 14, 2022


With the widespread availability of vaccines, some are starting to feel comfortable taking steps to reintegrate into social work and activities. With this shift, there has been a notable uptick in symptoms of anxiety.

Social anxiety is a term that many folks are using to describe an uncomfortable feeling, fear, or worry of engaging in social situations. Fears vary for each individual ranging from excessive worry regarding illness and contagion, having what is described as a “low social battery”, meaning not being able to endure being in public and social settings for the length of time they were able to pre-pandemic, and general insecurity about how to navigate the evolving environment. Additional stress and anxiety may come for those that do not yet feel safe to be in the workplace or in groups of people.

These anxieties may stem from the enormous toll of the pandemic on individuals, families, and communities.

We all recognize the grief, loss, fear, isolation, anxiety, and depression that many folks experienced over the past two and a half years.

Relationships have been challenged by living in close quarters and under distress, children have been cooped up with major milestones being paused or never to have come to fruition, and loneliness spiked as family members, friends, and loved ones socially distanced.

One very reinforcing way of coping with social anxiety is through Avoidance. While momentarily providing relief of uncomfortable symptoms such as excessive worry, tension, irritability, and sadness, this coping mechanism tends to be short lived and is ultimately counterproductive. Avoidance, over time, often leads to an increase in negative psychological and physiological symptoms, can impair daily functioning, and ultimately decrease quality of life.

How can we navigate stress in this ever-changing environment and ease some of the challenges of reintegrating back into the personal and professional realms?

Here are some common tips to ‘avoid’ the avoidance coping mechanism and create some positive and healthy habits during this challenging time.

  • Connect with others: even in small increments of time, by phone, outdoors, and eventually beginning steps toward more intimate engagement, one person and one cup of coffee at a time.
  • Exercise: engage in something enjoyable, breath fresh air, shift and stretch your body to enhance and release natural endorphins resulting in improved mood, better emotional regulation, and increased ability to face challenges that come your way.
  • Sleep: onboard good sleep hygiene and aim for consistency of schedule
  • Balanced meals: improved energy, ability to concentrate, decreased irritability and overwhelm
  • Practice Grace: toward yourself and others, positive and encouraging self-talk, reassuring self-affirming messages
  • Resiliency: Remind self of overcoming previous obstacles
  • Positive Engagement: Prioritize activities that reduce anxiety and promote well being
  • Engage at least one pleasurable activity each and every day!

Finally, start to think of this transition time as a moment to reflect what glimmers of warmth and positive change have occurred in your life and what you want to hold onto as your next normal.

For some, this may mean integrating more self-care into your daily lives with activities like yoga, meditation, DIY projects and home-cooked meals. Others are rethinking their work/life balance. We’ve seen a new awareness on diversity, inclusion, and human rights- how will you take these values into your work and personal life?

Consistently, people under dire circumstances have displayed incredible resilience; and creativity can often percolate and rise to the surface.

While this period may involve stress and anxiety, with the right healthy coping mechanisms, it can also hopefully be a period of discovery, reengaging in what is important and making positive changes in yourself, your family and the world.