“My anxiety got a lot worse when the pandemic started. Later, when they gave us a little freedom, I noticed that it was much more difficult for me to socialize than before.” Lucia is 19 years old and suffers from social phobia or social anxiety disorder.
The pandemic triggers anxiety among the youngest: “The job outlook has become complicated and generates uncertainty and overwhelm”
“A large majority of people have a certain social anxiety. We would like to feel good in certain situations, such as on the first day of work. There is a social desirability, which can be more or less great. The problem is when this emotion develops into disorder “, the professor in Psychology Antonio Cano-Vindel describes this phobia, a psychological problem that occurs when reality is distorted and certain moments are interpreted as a dangerous situation.
The epidemiological crisis caused by COVID-19 and the new security measures have fostered new types of social relationships, based on interpersonal distance and, in many cases, on technology. From the Spanish Association of Mutual Help against Social Phobia and Anxiety Disorders (AMTAES) they point out that the period of confinement and isolation was a “reinforcement” for these people, since they did not have to face “those fears in daily life” , something that they consider negative for their recovery in the face of the progressive return to presence.
“As if I had a lion in front of me”
This phobia is about a set of “cognitive distortions on interpretations of certain social situations, which are threatening for the affected people, because they think that their behavior will not be appropriate”, according to the psychologist Cano-Vindel, president of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress (SEAS). For a person with this type of problem, an apparently simple social fact such as “ordering a pizza” or “buying bread” becomes a real threat, “as if he had a lion in front of him,” exemplifies the psychologist and disseminator on social networks. Brenda de la Peña.
People who have this psychological problem can present very varied characteristics. “I always remember being very shy. Some family members complained that I did not speak and felt it as a lack of acceptance of my introverted personality. I did not feel that I had any problems, I was simply very sensitive and rough or little-known people scared me “A 30-year-old woman with social anxiety disorder speaks by email, preferring that no personal information be given about her. As he relates, when they made him read at school, it caused episodes in which he drowned and could not breathe. But the anxiety not only appeared at that moment, but also in advance, the previous days. As De la Peña indicates, “anxiety is a vicious circle”, because the fact of thinking that these episodes can happen – such as the sensation of shortness of breath or others such as stuttering – leads the person to worry before, during and after of the social moment.
Socialization in youth
With the COVID-19 crisis, there was a “worrying” increase in the number of adolescents and young people with mental health problems in Spain. Stress and anxiety disorders were some of the most recurrent not only in these age groups, but also in the general population, as Antonio Cano-Vindel refers: “The pandemic has been stressful for most people. And this means also more anxiety, irritability, sadness, and negative emotions. ” These emotions can occur for various reasons, depending on the person, but Cano-Vindel warns that “if these emotional consequences are maintained over time, in some people it can lead to emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.”
During adolescence and youth, socialization is a fundamental process. An example of this is the passage from the institute to the university. The campuses were among the first centers to go telematics and took thousands of students to live the experience through the screens, which meant a “limitation of the ritual of passage that is university life in terms of meeting new people” , indicates the social anthropologist Carles Feixa, who emphasizes that it is not only an “intellectual learning”, but also a social one. This also happened to Lucia, who had to live her first year of university with the security measures due to COVID-19: “In quarantine I closed myself off because I was not obliged to relate, so when I left it was like a shock because I had to interact again and I had not practiced for many months, “says the young woman.
This type of mental problem in young people often adds to the lack of information that families sometimes have. The psychologist and disseminator Claudia Pradas speaks of an “invalidation of mental health problems” at these ages by adults, who many times “do not provide the tools to improve”. For this reason, it is important that in the family it is known to recognize when the son or daughter has a predisposition to develop a social anxiety disorder since, as Professor Cano-Vindel points out, “there are children who are born genetically predisposed not to be so social “, with what” if they do not have trained parents, they are more at risk of developing these conditions in adolescence “.
New ways of socializing: ‘onlife’ relationships
The coronavirus also brought with it a new way of relating to the people around us, without physical contact and with a safe distance. A socialization relegated to video calls and the virtual world. But even before this, the younger groups had integrated a way of relating that “broke the barriers” between what on-line and the offline, in what is called, according to the social anthropologist Carles Feixa, “relation onlife“.
Adolescents have face-to-face relationships, but also through technology. At first these groups, “under the awareness that it would be something temporary”, had a “generally positive” reaction. However, from the first stage, the epidemic situation was mixed with structural facts derived from the 2008 crisis, such as “economic, political and social marginalization of young people, and the infantilization or extreme dependence and loss of social ties”. Feixa adds.
Although the internalization of “non-dualism” between the world on-line and offline It is already a reality, the expert in social anthropology speaks that human beings in general, “and adolescents in particular, are moldable.” In other words, spending months establishing personal connections through a screen and without maintaining physical contact does not have to be integrated into young groups. Similarly, Cano-Vindel assures that “there continues to be a need to be intimate, to have contact and social support, essential to clarify emotional problems”. Technology could serve to bring people closer together at a time of epidemiological crisis, but human beings still need physical contact.