Why Remote Teaching Makes Social Anxiety Harder to Handle

Why Remote Teaching Makes Social Anxiety Harder to Handle

We all realize remote teaching due to Covid-19 has added a heaping serving of new challenges to the already full plates of teachers worldwide. The mental health impact this is having on teachers needs to be discussed more. Many people with social anxiety are really struggling right now and because of their symptoms, they might have trouble expressing it. If you experience social anxiety, you definitely aren’t alone. Social anxiety disorder is the third most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in the United States. 

What is social anxiety disorder? 

It’s normal for people to feel anxious sometimes in social situations, however, some people experience levels of anxiety in social situations that impact their lives and relationships. Over 15 million Americans are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, which is distinguished by discomfort, anxiety, self-consciousness, and fear in social settings. Triggers may include meeting new people, going to new places, being the center of attention, public speaking, going on dates or interviews, and performing in public, including expertise and opinions. Activities such as eating, dancing or driving in front of even people they know can be very distressing to those with social anxiety disorder. The sufferer often knows their distress isn’t rational, but the feelings are still chronic and persistent, despite logical thought.

What are some common social anxiety symptoms? 

People with this type of anxiety disorder often have a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. The symptoms and severity often vary. Some days an activity might be easier or more difficult to manage than other days, even if there isn’t a significant difference in the circumstances. Common symptoms include:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Blushing
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach issues
  • Dry mouth 
  • Feelings that go beyond typical nervousness (including embarrassment, anxiety, fear, and panic)
  • Isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative body image and self-talk
  • Avoiding or quitting uncomfortable activities, experiences, and interactions
  • Excessive drinking or substance use to get through social events

How does remote teaching impact social anxiety? 

Even people without social anxiety disorder are feeling increased stress when it’s time to make phone calls or participate in video sessions. Reasons for anxiety related to Zoom and other distance communication include:

  • Difficulty reading others: It’s difficult to read other people’s facial expressions and body language when you aren’t in the same room. This makes it easy to worry about misunderstandings and communication issues. 
  • Low self-image: Many people with social anxiety are very critical of their own faces and voices. Video and phone communication amplify these insecurities. 
  • Social fatigue: For many people, social distancing has resulted in increased social interaction. After working remotely from home all day, here are invitations to virtual cocktail parties, game nights, exercise classes, etc. to consider. Plus, Facetime requests from family and friends. 
  • Invasion of personal space: Many teachers are able to successfully manage their social anxiety at school because they’ve adjusted to that environment. However, bringing those social interactions into their home throws a wrench in all of the techniques they’ve managed. There’s also worry about students, parents, and colleagues seeing inside your home or hearing your dogs/children/partner/neighbors, etc.
  • Insecurities about ability: What if my video or microphone fails and I don’t know how to fix it? What if a parent sits in on my lesson and I stumble over the material? What if I say something wrong during a meeting? 

How to get help if you struggle with social anxiety?

If your anxiety in social situations is impacting your life or relationships, talk to your regular doctor or mental health professional. A diagnosis makes treatment options more accessible. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help with your anxiety. Therapy is often very beneficial in discovering your triggers and developing coping skills to minimize their impact. Psychology Today has a database to help you find a therapist. In the meantime, therapist Eve Sturges has some tips for managing social anxiety while teaching remotely. 

Ways to reduce social anxiety while teaching from home:

Sturges says it’s important to realize this is an awkward and unusual time for most people. The next step is letting go of expectations of perfection – things are going to go wrong and that’s okay. However, since anxiety doesn’t always respond to logic, she offers the following suggestions to ease social anxiety when working from home.

Prepare your space:

  • Set up a designated space in your home to conduct calls and videos.
  • Clear this area of clutter.
  • A blank wall works best so you aren’t worried about what the viewers see behind you. This can be accomplished by thumbtacking a solid colored sheet to the wall.
  • Give yourself plenty of time before appointments nad meetings to check sound, lighting, etc. before you start
  • Make sure your area is equipped with everything you may need for the session, including pen and paper, laptop and phone chargers, water, etc.
  • Check out this extensive list of remote teaching hacks that’ll help you navigate these uncharted waters!

Prepare your mind

  • Practice logging in and roleplaying conversations when you’re calm.
  • Self-care is important. Try to be in top form by eating healthy foods, exercising, drinking water, and getting enough sleep.
  • Explore calming activities such as journaling, coloring, knitting, mediation, deep breaths, cleaning while listening to music, yoga, going for a walk, or talking to a friend before making calls or participating in video chats. Experiment to find what works best for you.
  • Plan rewards. Sturges says, “Celebrate your victories! Adults deserve gold stars for completing scary tasks, too.” 

And, of course, just as teachers may be struggling with increased social anxiety right now it’s important to remember that students might be also. Patience, compassion, and gentleness with ourselves and others is especially helpful during uncertain times. Sturges says, “Remember that this too will pass. No one is living their ideal life right now, and your Zoom presentations aren’t anyone’s number one priority as the entire world pivots to accommodate a global pandemic. Like everything right now, just do your best – it’s all anyone can do!”

Also Read:

Why Remote Teaching Makes Social Anxiety Harder to Handle

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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