Social Anxiety Worsens for Some as Georgia Lifts Stay-at-Home Orders; How to Get Proactive Support

Published by Ashley Broadwater on

Social Anxiety Worsens for Some as Georgia Lifts Stay-at-Home Orders; How to Get Proactive Support

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our COVID-19 (the ‘rona) series. Click to learn more about our local ‘rona coverage.

As she walks around Target, Kayla McManus-Viana, an undergraduate at the Georgia Institute of Technology, feels like something is crushing her chest. Her fingers fidget, she says, as she sees all of the customers without masks.

After 10 weeks of being alone in quarantine, many people will be excited to finally see their friends again. But that’s not the case for everyone. Some believe they’ll feel more anxious as Gov. Kemp lifts the stay-at-home orders and crowds congregate. 

McManus-Viana is a 22-year-old majoring in History, Technology and Society. She’s had intense anxiety for 13 years, but the health effects of the coronavirus have exacerbated it. Living with a family member that’s immunocompromised, a family member with asthma and a family member that’s elderly, she constantly fears accidentally putting her loved ones in danger. 

Georgia Tech student Kayla McManus-Viana always wears a mask and gloves when she has to go out. Courtesy of McManus-Viana.

Unfortunately, her dangerous predicament is about to get worse. As people are allowed to leave their houses more, they’re coming out in droves, leading to a potential rise in COVID-19 cases.

“I think that’s my thing with crowds. I can’t control what others are doing,” McManus-Viana said. 

For her, the idea of lifting regulations and crowds of people gathering in public raises the question: How can I handle being in crowds when it not only makes me anxious generally, but also (especially) when it could make my loved ones sick?

“Some people are now scared to even participate in things that are safe for them simply because we hear such negative information about the virus itself,” said KaCey Venning, program manager at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Atlanta (NAMI). “For people who already have social anxiety, it heightens it. For people who haven’t, it’s one more thing to be concerned about. They may feel like it’s not worth it to go out.”

McManus-Viana’s social anxiety indeed heightens when she has to go out. “I’m constantly telling people to wash their hands. I’m turning into a second mother which isn’t fun for anybody,” she said. 

Her social anxiety manifests in physical ways.

“I get chest pain like there’s a weight on my chest almost, and I want to get rid of it, so I start fidgeting or pacing. I pick at the skin around my fingernails. We had to run to Target, and my jaw was just clenched,” she said. 

People with social anxiety may avoid social gatherings, feel afraid that they’ll embarrass themselves, judge themselves harshly and experience physical discomfort around others. In addition, they may experience stomach cramps, nervous energy and chest pain. Many people have this disorder: Social anxiety is the third most common mental illness.
McManus-Viana paints her nails to help her stop picking at her skin. Courtesy of McManus-Viana

If you’re someone who struggles with social anxiety, you’re not alone. Over 31 percent of people will develop an anxiety disorder before reaching 18 years old, in which over 9 percent of those people struggle with a social phobia

Young people can be especially prone to struggle with social anxiety. Those in Generation Z are more likely to report poor mental health than other generations. Social anxiety often starts in adolescence, with the average age of onset at 13 years old.

Young people are social by nature,” Venning said. “It’s the idea of life abruptly changing. Having to now redefine how you spend your time and entertain yourself and utilize technology to your benefit in terms of keeping strong relationships you can’t keep in person.”

However, there is hope.  

Working with a professional can help people struggling with their mental health. While a lot of stigma surrounds mental health, it’s nothing to feel ashamed of. Mental health is just as important and valid as physical health! Psychology Today offers a catalog of professionals in which you can filter by insurance, technique and more. You can find therapists, psychiatrists or support groups.

If you can’t afford that right now, don’t worry. NAMI in Atlanta has free support groups you can join too. At these support groups, you can see that you aren’t alone and how others handle their mental health struggles. 

And NAMI isn’t the only ones with free services. According to Venning, several mental health professionals and groups have received grants so they can offer free services. Ser Familia received a $100,000 grant so they can continue to provide free mental health counseling in Spanish and Talkspace is helping medical workers receive free therapy.

For at-home resources, you can text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Engage in online self-help resources to help you interact with others, handle your emotions effectively and reduce negative thinking. These informational sheets can help you explain what you’re dealing with to your parents.

If you’re feeling anxious about your social anxiety, don’t wait until the quarantine ends to learn how to best handle it. Act proactively. 

“Start walking around the block just to get yourself in the habit of walking around in the world. Slowly reintegrate your former activities into your life,” Venning said. “This is a great time to set boundaries and see what’s important in your life. Remove things that you didn’t want to do in the first place or are routine and slowly build yourself back into a life that was comfortable and rewarding.” 

If you have health-related social anxiety, it can be helpful to keep your hands and mind busy. 

“I’m trying to keep my fingers busy. I’m embroidering a lot, so I’m not picking at my fingernails when people go out… I’ll plan out the rest of my day… My sister and I decided to paint our rooms,” McManus-Viana said.

Both Venning and McManus-Viana agree that limiting your news consumption also plays a key role in lessening social anxiety. Stay informed, but don’t let the news play all day.

Venning wants you to know you’re not alone and that people want to support you. “There’s help, even if it’s virtual,” she said. “This will pass. Reach out.”

You don’t need to hit rock bottom to receive help. Know that what you’re dealing with is valid, and you are worthy of love and support.

Ashley Broadwater | Avant-Youth

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Ashley Broadwater

Ashley Broadwater is a recent graduate of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a great appreciation for puns, Diet Cherry Lemon SunDrop, Halloween and the word “literally” — literally. A fun fact about her is that one-third of her face was once on Good Morning America.


Linda Piper · May 28, 2020 at 1:44 am

Great tips!

Carolyn Helms · May 28, 2020 at 11:10 am

A wonderful article. It is great to see young people with this much onsite.

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