On a beautiful May evening, we were together with a small group from church, to gather in the backyard for a time of worship. It was the first time, as our province was beginning to reopen after the Covid lockdown.
We walked to the backyard, and my daughter looked at me; she said the words I myself was feeling, “Mom, it’s kinda weird to be around so many people.”
So many people.
It was a group of 25.
A necessary time of isolation, yet the effects on us are beginning to show as life slowly expands outside the boundaries of restriction. My 8 year old daughter could notice that odd feeling, and it wasn’t just her. I felt it too.
Even as I was getting ready to go out, I looked in the mirror, a little distraught because my short hairstyle was in absolute dire need of a cut. Then I noticed my jeans aren’t as forgiving as my sweat pants with the quarantine 15.
Can I go out like this? What will people think?
No worship gatherings. No sports activities. Stay at home. Keep your circle small. Get your groceries delivered.
We lived in isolation for long enough that we are out of practice being around others. The comfort we had around people has withered and we are left to learn afresh how to engage and flourish in a life that, once again, includes social circles.
We get ready to go out. We aren’t sure what to say. We misunderstood what someone meant. These are all common experiences as we interact with others. Trouble begins to manifest when we turn these experiences into judgements about ourselves.
If we aren’t sure what to say, we think, “Why am I so dumb?”
We struggle with what to wear, we think, “Why can’t I look a certain way”
We respond in a conversation and later think, “Why did I say that? I should’ve said this.”
The judgements we make about our interactions with others become a tool we use to measure our worth.
We all may notice this about ourselves at times, those self-critical thoughts. The times we are afraid of what people are thinking about us, or the fear someone will judge us in a negative way.
This is social anxiety.
Social anxiety is the most common mental health issue across North America  Sometimes we notice those fears here-and-there, but other times we encounter it more regularly and may start to experience panic attacks. Now after covid, whether it is in large or small doses, we are beginning to notice fears and worries creep in unsuspectingly on many of us.
The fear begins to manifest, causing our thoughts to swarm with self-criticisms and negative beliefs about ourselves and about others. Most of the time, we can still manage to go out and interact with others, and it’s usually not that bad.
However, these symptoms can begin to escalate and start to hinder our lives and our relationships with others.
It is a slippery slope, when we feel uncomfortable around others, to just say we won’t go, or “I’ll just stay home.”
Once we’ve begun to avoid social settings, the natural thought is that our feelings will improve, but in fact, anxiety doesn’t just go away. Avoiding something may prevent it from happening at the moment, but it doesn’t solve the problem or the pattern.
What can we remember in our battle with social anxiety?
CREATED FOR AN IDENTITY IN CHRIST
When we criticize ourselves, we aren’t going to foster positive feelings inside of us. Negative thoughts will perpetuate negative feelings, and a vicious cycle continues; we stay stuck.
The entrance of sin into the world caused insecurity to rise up. Rather than just guilt for our sin, when we make a poor choice, we begin to experience shame; hiding in the bushes, not just to hide from God or cover up sin, but because we no longer believe we are worthy of being loved.
We are not worthy because of ourselves, but because we are loved and valued by our Creator.
Created in the image of a powerful, almighty God, unique in our desires, passions and gifts. Our identity as those who love and follow Jesus, is rooted in Christ, built up in Him, and strengthened by Him. This happens as we hold fast to His Word, draw near to Him in prayer and practice fellowship with others. We have a purpose for our life, to glorify Him in all we do and to serve those around us.
None of this is what we have done for ourselves, it is the redeeming work of Christ, who has forgiven us and reconciled us to the Father. We are saved, and continuing to be saved by the work of the Holy Spirit; adopted, transformed, equipped and sent.
This is who we are.
CREATED FOR COMMUNITY
When our focus is all on us, we get stuck thinking only about us. The repeated criticism of ourselves shifts our orientation inward, rather than outward.
If we practice thinking only about us, we are going to lose sight of others, and their needs. Serving becomes a hard thing to do. Scripture helps remind us to look not only after our own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:4).
We are not designed to be alone, God purposed us for community. In these times of change we need each other more than ever, for encouragement, support and prayer, "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb 10:24).
If you’re struggling with life, not coping well, or beginning to have panic attacks, talk to someone. Confide in a friend, family member or pastor. Ask for prayer. Find a counsellor in your area who can help provide you with skills to work through it. Memorize scripture that reminds you of who you are in Christ, take notice of your thoughts and how they affect your feelings and practice some deep breathing to calm your body in the moment.
It's easy as believers to remember the verse, "do not be anxious about anything" (Phil 4:6), but rather than making a rule, let's remember the way the sentence begins in verse 5, "The Lord is near." He is near, He is with us and has a good plan for our lives.
We may continue to struggle, but don't forget that He is present with us, whether we are alone, or among others. May we be people of peace, holding each other close, uniting for the glory of God and to serve one another.
Have you noticed the discomfort of being in a group after Covid?
How can you support and encourage those around you today?
 Dozois, D. J. A. (2019). Abnormal psychology: Perspectives.