Reducing Social Anxiety & Promoting Re-Engagement in Children (Pandemic Re-Entry)

For many children, who may have struggled with feeling comfortable when interacting with others pre-pandemic, having had a year of significantly reduced social interactions may have felt like a relief.  However, currently with schools, businesses, and public places re-opening many children are dealing with increased social difficulties as the pandemic eliminated any outside contact with others other than their immediate family members.  The five tips below may help to support your child with increased reengagement skills and reduced social anxiety.  

Talk openly about what social anxiety is with your child.

Explain to your child that children struggling with social anxiety may fear social situations that involve interacting with others (i.e. peers, teachers, adults) when in school, public or when attending gatherings. Children with social anxiety may experience negative thoughts and/or fears that others are judging or having negative beliefs about them. Talking to your child and normalizing their feelings of anxiety after being in quarantine, and expressing that their feelings are normal, is vital. To normalize their feelings, talk to your child about your own experiences with anxiety and how you overcame them.

Schedule time for your child to interact others.

Schedule time with friends and close family members via Facetime or Zoom – making sure to encourage your child’s use of the camera when on video calls to promote face-to-face interaction with others. (Should your child struggle with not feeling comfortable with using the camera, you may allow the use of audio only calls initially). However, efforts should be made to successfully achieve video face-to-face interaction with use of the camera feature, in order to work on strengthening social connections and reduce social anxiety.

Provide encouragement and support to your child

Provide encouragement and support to your child with attention on acceptance and sensitivity, making sure to avoid use of judgment, being critical, or showing frustration with your child. Help your child to identify, label, and express their emotions. Children will at times not be successful in achieving their socialization goals. It is difficult for children to face their fears, be sure to validate their feelings, talking to your child at their eye level and validating their emotions is critical for their successful reintegration with others. Utilize language such as, “I see this is hard for you, we can work on this together,” rather than “Why can’t you do it?” or “Why can you be like your sister/cousin they can interact with other kids?”

Encourage outdoor experiences and activities.

Encourage and support your child to increase his/her time engaging in outside experiences and activities. You may support your child by being available to visit a local park, leaving the house for some ice cream, playing a sport with your child on the driveway or front street, and/or visiting the grocery store will allow your child to have gradual exposures to being around others, while still practicing social distancing and wearing their mask.

Support your child with coping skills.

Support your child with the development and implementation of social anxiety coping skills. Skills that can help in reducing your child’s social anxiety include the following strategies: timed breathing skills such as, square breathing which involves creating a mental image of a square box, inhaling from your nose for a count of four, holding air in your lungs for a count of four, exhaling from your mouth for a count of four and holding your breathe for a count of four, (see a guided video here). The square breathing sequence can be repeated three times to receive the best results with reduced anxiety. Another skill to reduce anxiety is the use of a grounding skill using your five senses, where you can have your child locate and explore – 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste. This exercise intercepts anxiety producing thoughts and helps your child to be present in their space. (see guided video here).

Arlene Munoz, LSW

8 Tips to Reduce Stress during COVID-19

If you are experiencing increased stress levels due to the globe battling its current viral pandemic, you are not alone. It is a perfectly normal response. COVID-19, for many, has been greatly associated with severe health and economic news predictions, endless data coverage reporting on the spread of the virus across the globe, and countless accounts of misinformation being spread on various platforms. As a result stress and fear have escalated when considering the many unknowns.

Knowing what stress encompasses is the first step toward attempting to reduce it.

Stress is simply your body’s response to mental and/or emotional stimulation. Stress can be beneficial when in manageable levels. However, when stress levels are chronic, stress can cause distress. Chronic stress impacts your health; it cause changes to your mood, eating habits, sleeping patterns, promote fatigue and trouble concentrating.

We’ll review 8 practices for how to help reduce stress levels during this crisis and beyond.

  1. Improve Sleep – Practicing good sleep hygiene (i.e. establishing a healthy nightly routine before getting to bed) can reduce the impact of stress during such unprecedented times of stress, anxiety and fear of the many unknowns. Specifically, a healthy bedtime routine includes reducing the exposure of blue light which is emitted by use of electronics such as laptops, desk tops, televisions, and cell phones. Reducing use of electronics one to two hours before bed can greatly improve the quality of sleep. Additionally, establishing a calming routine before bed such as, taking a long shower or bath, using comfortable pajamas, reading, listening to tranquil music and consuming warm non caffeinated drinks (i.e. hot tea) is known to improve sleep and thus decrease stress. 
  1. Use of Mindfulness – Practicing the use of deep breathing exercises such as 5-7-8 involves slowly inhaling through your nose to a slow, but paced, count to five, then holding your breath for a paced count of seven and finally exhaling through your mouth counting to eight. Practicing the 5-7-8 mindfulness exercise at least 8-10 times consecutively can reduce stress, muscle tension and promote a sense of calmness; use of the aforementioned exercise is recommended at least twice daily for best results. Learn more about Mindfulness in our recent Blog Post
  1. Improve Self-Care – Engaging in pleasurable activities during stressful times, can reduce stress. Activities such as, jogging, painting, drawing, talking to a friend, gardening, reading, taking a bubble bath or watching your favorite television show are just some ideas that can serve as self-care. View our recent webinar on Practical Skills for Stress Management for 4 guided coping skills that can help improve daily stress levels. 
  1. Reduce News Intake – Watching increased levels of the news can increase stress levels. Instead, partake in watching the news in small increments and watching news sources being reported from reputable sources such as the CDC. Many social media outlets and others are producing incorrect facts pertaining to COVID-19; arm yourself with factual information. 
  1. Maintenance of Structure – Many people have had their everyday lives impacted by COVID-19; parents are either working from home or staying at home to care for their children, or have been laid off or college students returning home unexpectedly. Such drastic structural changes may undoubtedly impact stress levels. Attempting to maintain the use normalcy where possible for time of eating meals, use of daily exercise and creative uses of technology to stay connected with friends and family can both reduce stress and feelings of isolation. 
  1. Use of Video TechnologyFinding new ways to stay connected to friends and family can reduce stress symptoms. Staying connected to others, even through video formats can reduce feelings of disconnection, while the globe is practicing social distancing and self-isolation. Creative ways to use video technology include FaceTime, Zoom and Tik Tok. 
  1. Exercise – While everyone may have varying endurance levels, nearly everyone can engage in physical movement while at home. Regular activities provide a level of exercise, from gardening, organizing a room in your space, walking your dog, or practicing at home yoga or jumping jacks. All forms of movement count toward active forms of exercise, which can reduce stress. The use of 30 minutes of exercise just three times a week can reduce stress and anxiety by approximately 70%. 
  1. Repurposing Time at Home – Being at home may be the perfect time to work on any small home projects such as decluttering the coat closet, cleaning out the infamous junk draw or getting rid of unused clothing can reduce stress levels. Purposely redirecting the focus on areas of one’s life that you do have control over versus those you do not can promote feelings of productivity, wellness and reduce stress. 

While there may be many things currently outside of our control related to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we all can put into practice healthy practices to reduce stress. We all experience stress and this pandemic is certainly a time for many to experience increased stress. While it may not feel like we have control over many things at this time, we do have control over how we respond to increased stress and its impact on our health and mental well-being.

 Arlene Munoz, MSW