Updated: Jul 1, 2021
During March of 2020, I had been enjoying my spring break with my family in Miami, Florida, when I received an email from The Ohio State University. That email told me I would not be going back to college to finish out my sophomore year. I was devastated.
While I knew that the COVID-19 pandemic would be hard for everyone, I didn’t know it would have such a huge impact on me personally. After nineteen years of having no understanding or experience with anxiety, I wasn’t ready for it to hit me as hard as it did.
I first knew that something was wrong a few weeks after the lockdown began, when I was having a casual conversation with some of my loved ones. I suddenly started to feel uncomfortable and awkward. I was confused about it and kept telling myself, “Emma, stop. You don’t get uncomfortable. You don’t get nervous. This isn’t you.” Instances like this kept happening as the pandemic went on.
You see, I’ve always loved being the center of attention. As a little girl, I would put on fashion shows for my family and close friends, along with “concert” performances in my front yard. I grew up dancing at recitals and singing at church. I always knew that I was made for the spotlight.
I never grew out of that phase, either. In high school, I was the captain of my school’s varsity sports teams, twirled fire batons and danced at Friday night football game halftime shows, was crowned royalty at school dances, hosted house parties, and more.
When I started college, I was the president of a volleyball club, sang at a huge church, and was a reporter for my school’s newspaper. I had also begun doing acting auditions, performances, and song recordings. Anyways, you get the gist. Each of these roles came with social interactions, public speaking, and being in front of a camera.
So, none of these things describe a person with social anxiety, right? That’s because I never had it. I grew up as the most social and outgoing person that everyone around me knew. Anxiety was nonexistent to me. It was the opposite of who I was, until COVID.
While it was hard for me to accept that my mind was rapidly being introduced to anxious thoughts, it was also heartbreaking. I knew that if my anxiety were to get worse in the future, it might keep me from living my dream. After all, it would be hard for a socially anxious person to act out crazy script scenes or sing live in front of people--something I did on a regular basis before the pandemic.
My anxiety grew worse over the next few months. My heart would beat faster every time I walked into a crowded room of people who were expecting me to speak. But in the past, I was always the one leading the conversations in group settings. I was fearful of any situation in which I knew the attention would fall on me, which was insane given that my whole personality revolved around that just months before the lockdown.
I was good at hiding my anxiety from the people around me. I wouldn’t even tell my mom about it, and I tell her everything. I thought it’d be best to just push those anxious feelings deep down inside of me and try to ignore them. This made me feel like I was having a constant battle with my mind, and it was exhausting.
After a few months of this, I realized that I needed to make a change. I was too strong of a person to just allow myself to get worse without even trying to get better.
I chose not to go to therapy, which was a personal choice. Therapy is a great way for people who are struggling with their mental health to get support. I’ve seen it help some of my loved ones, but I decided therapy wasn’t the next step for me. Instead, I wanted to confide in people who knew me.
After talking to some of my loved ones, I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was freeing to verbally let loose about what I was going through. It made me feel comfortable because I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had been having a hard time. While I wasn’t happy to hear that my loved ones had also been struggling with their mental health throughout the pandemic, it did make me feel less odd and out of place.
In the fall of 2020, after dealing with these issues for months, I had decided to start facing my anxiety, rather than run away from it. I started laughing at myself when I got anxious, instead of taking it so seriously. I stopped thinking so much into things, and it calmed me down. An article by Psychology Today mentions that laughing at yourself is healthy when it’s not motivated by self-demeaning drives, and it can remind us of our humanness and promote positive interactions.
When my heart started to beat fast, I just let it happen. I stopped getting scared and trying to force it to go away. Instead, I acknowledged that it was just my anxiety, took deep breaths, smiled, and told myself that I was fine. This process really helped me. According to Dental Associates of Florida, smiling reduces stress and anxiety.
As someone who has always been extremely confident, I had to remind myself that my anxiety was lying to me in social situations. According to an article by VeryWellMind, people with Social Anxiety Disorder tend to think to themselves, “I can’t control my anxiety,” and “I am making a fool of myself.” You have to remember to tell yourself that those things aren’t true.
Throughout the pandemic, I continued to do other things to help my mental health. I got myself into the routine of working out every day. If my body physically felt good, it helped my mind feel good, too. An article from the Mayo Clinic says that exercising on a regular basis helps take your mind off of negative thoughts that feed anxiety. It also releases feel-good endorphins that can enhance your well-being.
I spent more time songwriting and singing, which helped me get my confidence back. It’s important to appreciate the things you’re good at and devote time to those things. It’s self-care, and it really puts your mind at ease.
Lastly, I would purposely put myself in social situations where I knew I would be uncomfortable. By doing this, it made me feel in charge, because no one was making me do this but myself. I told myself, “Hey, look, you’re doing it! You’re fine, see? You could leave at any time, but you don’t have to because you’re in control of the situation, and you’re fine!”
I find myself getting better each and every day. I’ve come so far since the beginning of last year - and am feeling more and more like my old self as COVID restrictions lessen and time goes on. I am at the point where I actually look forward to social gatherings again. I am seeing myself turn back into that excited, outspoken person that I used to be. Taking care of myself was my priority, and now I can get back to being me and doing what I love.
While my story might not be yours, I hope that this article gives you some courage to take control over whatever mental health issues COVID may have brought you. A research study by Spandidos Publications states that the pandemic has severely increased mental health issues--such as panic, anxiety, and depression--in the general population. So, if you’ve been struggling, you’re not alone. So many people’s mental health has been impacted by COVID.
While I am not at all suggesting that clinically diagnosed, life-long depression or anxiety can be fixed by these methods I have mentioned, I am offering my story as a possible way to help people in similar predicaments who’ve experienced situational anxiety due to COVID. There are always steps to take in the right direction, and I hope you take yours like I took mine. I am rooting for you!