Specialist tackles social anxiety during holidays as pandemic lingers

Wena Cos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 15 2021 01:46 PM

MANILA— Anxiety caused by an increase in physical and social interactions during the holiday season is normal especially with the threat of COVID-19 still around, said lifestyle medicine specialist Dr. Mark Dexter Macalintal on Wednesday.

"Pwede nating sabihin na hindi muna ako makikipagkamay at hug sa'yo dahil ako ay natatakot pa," Macalintal said in an interview with TeleRadyo.

He said boundaries are necessary, especially with the threat of the pandemic still present. 

Nearly two years living with restrictions against the transmission of COVID-19 is a factor, he added. 

"Masyadong restrictive ang galaw natin. It is fairly normal na magkaroon ng ganitong klaseng problema dahil na-isolate tayo. At ngayon may mga tao pa rin na hindi pa rin handa na makipag-interact."

Macalintal said this is called "social anxiety," or anxiety brought on by social environments and interactions. While it's normal to experience social anxiety as pandemic restrictions ease, people who have previously diagnosed mental health conditions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are more susceptible to it.

People who are uncomfortable with social and physical interaction should not be forced into them, he recommended. Recognizing and respecting boundaries can be part of the "new normal."

"Minsan simpleng handshake lang na gustong ibalik kasi nasanay tayo sa fist bump lang, or even 'yung kisses sa mga bata ay pinagbabawal ng mga ina, and that's normal. We learn to accept these things," he added.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health in the USA, social anxiety can be characterized by:

  • Blushing, sweating, trembling, a rapid heart rate, or feeling their “mind going blank”
  • Feeling nauseous or sick to their stomach
  • Showing a rigid body posture, making little eye contact, or speaking with an overly soft voice
  • Finding it scary and difficult to be with other people, especially those they don’t already know, and having a hard time talking to them even though they wish they could
  • Being very self-conscious in front of other people and feeling embarrassed and awkward
  • Being very afraid that other people will judge them
  • Staying away from places where there are other people

Someone whose anxiety and fear interfere with day-to-day activities should begin to consider seeking professional treatment. 

"'Pag dumating na sa point na kayo ay nanginginig na sa takot, di na maganda ang disposisyon sa buhay, nakakaabala na sa trabaho at sa gawain sa buhay, pinakamainam na magpatingin sa doktor para mabigyan ng gamot kung may kailangang ibigay," he clarified.

Getting "alone time" is good, but social connection is part of a person's general well-being, Macalintal said, and people must learn to ease themselves back into social interactions eventually, but at their own pace. 

He recommended making do with other means such as online chats, video calls, and phone calls to rekindle connections with friends and family with whom they have lost touch over the pandemic. 

Once a connection is reestablished, they can begin easing into meeting their peers, one by one. 

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