Coaching For Post Covid-19 Related Social Anxiety

One of my long term intermittent client from the IT industry in Beijing recently came up to me distraught that next month on she has to go back to office for working. I asked her if that wasn’t good — life coming back to normal pre-covid? Her response was a surprising no. She said “I am used to my meetings over zoom, I need to focus only on my output, ….Now thinking about going back to work, having to decide what to wear every day, facing numerous people and the commotion at work, conference room

the bar — having to go through all that change again is making me nervous.” Another client’s teenage son is refuses to go back to school after a year of studying from home. A third long term client M has always been shy of public speaking. Now that he has to go back to work and hold regular speeches is filling him with dread, so much so that he has decided to delegate this to one of his subordinates. Incidences like these made me think of clients, having to go back to ‘normal’ life situations after a break, must be going through some levels of anxiety and fear. Even though hyper social anxiety is a matter to be referred to a trusted counsellor, as a coach, these fearful emotions in our clients (and indeed ourselves) need to be acknowledged. “Social anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing — it is a natural human emotion that ebbs and flows. The reason has to do partly with our natural brain response to change and dealing with new situations where the amygdala is constantly watching out for perceived threats — this is normal as going out from social isolation into a group where power dynamics are active — might create a fight/flight/freeze response in individuals, (especially those who are by nature shy or introverts)” — Dr Steven Hoffman, PhD, Director, Emotion Research Laboratory, Professor of Psychology. Social Anxiety is characterised by mild self-consciousness to overwhelming stress (anxiety, panic attacks) when faced with the prospect of going out in specific situations. Everyone’s response to social anxiety is different so it’s valuable to spend some time reflecting on your unique experience.In general, looking for pattern behaviours — whether you hear, see or feel getting nervous or overly obsessed about certain situations such as being in the center of attention, meeting new people, talking to people in authority, presentations or talking in front of people, parties and social gatherings, being watched while doing something, such as signing your name, eating, or drinking.Other symptoms are as follows -

  • Physical symptoms — Heart palpitations, or racing and pounding heart, sweating, trembling or shaking, dry throat and mouth, tightness in your chest, blushing etc

  • Thoughts — constant worry about how other people may judge or criticise you, worrying thoughts about what people think or what you might do wrong or embarrassing or will somehow “mess up”.

Coping Strategies — It comes in handy to know and practice some first-aid in case one is prone to anxiety. The key word here is ‘regular practice’ as although easy as it might sound, the truth is, learning to relax only comes with practice.

  • Deep Breathing Coping Skills

Deep breathing is a simple technique that’s excellent for managing emotions. Not only is deep breathing effective, it’s also discreet and easy to use at any time or place. Sit comfortably and place one hand on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose, deeply enough that the hand on your abdomen rises. Hold the air in your lungs, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, with your lips puckered as if you are blowing through a straw. The secret is to go slow: Time the inhalation (4s), pause (4s), and exhalation (6s). Practice for 3 to 5 minutes. Click here for an audio guide from my archives -

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

By tensing and relaxing the muscles throughout your body, you can achieve a powerful feeling of relaxation. Additionally, progressive muscle relaxation will help you spot anxiety by teaching you to recognize feelings of muscle tension. Sit back or lie down in a comfortable position. For each area of the body listed below, you will tense your muscles tightly, but not to the point of strain. Hold the tension for 10 seconds, and pay close attention to how it feels. Then, release the tension, and notice how the feeling of relaxation differs from the feeling of tension.

  • Realistic Thinking

Self talking into realistic thinking does wonders in reframing and putting your brain out of the flight/freeze zone. When you observe yourself having negative thoughts such as “ no one will like me”, “people will think I am boring”, “my friends will judge me”, realise that your thoughts are predictions, not actual facts. Challenge your thinking by saying “so what?” “what is the worse that could happen?” “where is the evidence that this will actually happen?” “what will I say to my best friend if she/he was in this situation?”

Long Term Coping Strategies

  • Learning About Social Anxiety — While anxiety serves a useful purpose (e.g., alerting us to dangers), too much anxiety comes in the way of performing certain activities and leading a fulfilling life. Learning about anxiety cycle, for example, helps in recognising worry, fear and rumination and empowers one to take steps towards breaking the chain.For a comprehensive worksheet on social anxiety, send an email to with subject Social Anxiety Help

  • Facing Fears With Support — Help your clients by encouraging them to take baby steps towards facing their fears. Coming out of social isolation after a few months, one of my clients was afraid of taking the subway to work. She asked me to help her by accompanying her to the subway station and then taking the subway with her to work. We did this a couple of times until she felt ready to do this on her own.

  • Practice altruism — Positive psychology says kind deeds have a positive impact on mood. Evidence suggest individuals who actively engage in acts of kindness towards others, such as helping a colleague, later felt less avoidant of social situations.

  • Be aware of negative coping behaviours — Many people take to negative coping strategies, for example, eating or drinking too much, hiding oneself in the smartphone to avoid engaging with people. These behaviours are counterintuitive and only leads to feeing the anxiety cycle.

Action Items

  • Practise! Practise! Practise! — In a way, learning to manage anxiety is a lot like exercise — one needs to “keep in shape” and practise the skills regularly.

  • Put in effort to be more social through kindness and reaching out to colleagues and acquaintances. Increase the challenge by offering help to strangers.

  • Ask for help from a coach, a trusted friend or the many anxiety apps available to facing fears through role playing, gradual exposure, practicing and preparing.

(article first published on

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