Why conversations can be hard as society opens up

For some people the prospect of having to isolate or be in lockdown is a nightmare, however for others it has been a relief. Not having to leave the house and engage in social situations can provide respite from feelings of anxiety or stress.

Social situations can create anxiety for a range of reasons. Some of us fear being judged by others. We worry about saying the wrong thing, saying too much or not being able to say anything at all. Others may find the prospect of being around other people overwhelming or exhausting.

While having a conversation with another person can seem like a simple thing to do, it actually involves a lot of processes. We need to be able to block out surrounding noises and stimuli in order to focus our attention on the other person. We need to be able to hear, understand and process what the other person is saying. We then need to formulate our thoughts into a coherent response. We need the confidence to be able to articulate our response and believe that what we are saying is of interest to the other person. We need to match our body language, facial expression and tone to the content of what we are trying to convey.

If we experience anxiety we may need to do all this while trying to deal with physical feelings of nausea, shaking, tension or breathlessness. We may have a negative inner voice that is telling us that we have nothing interesting to say, or we are not worthy of a conversation with others.

If you feel uncomfortable in social situations, it is worth assessing the expectations you have of yourself or that others may have. There can be a sense that everyone should be outgoing and confident or have lots of friends. However, there is nothing wrong with preferring low key interactions or your own company. On the other hand, if you would like to develop more social connections but feel unable to, it might be helpful to get some support.

Although it can feel overwhelming, there is lots that can be done to support someone to feel more confident in social situations. These range from developing social skills, learning ways to cope with anxiety, finding the right situations and environments to support positive social interactions and introducing strategies to increase self-confidence and self-belief.

Occupational Therapy can help identify what is preventing you from engaging in the meaningful conversations you are longing for and put together a plan to overcome these barriers. Get in touch if you would like to find out more.