The Return of Social Anxiety?

Tips for Post-Pandemic Life.

On the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of Covid as a pandemic, we are beginning to see the light ahead. Vaccine numbers are soaring, restaurants are offering indoor dining, people are traveling. Pandemic “pods” are expanding to include more than the two or three friends or family that many have depended on for company. Soon enough, there will be weddings, awards ceremonies, even private parties. Are you ready?

I’m not. But I’m working on it.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Re-entry anxiety is not just for people with hearing loss. There are dozens of Google entries discussing the phenomenon, some of them a little premature, like one back in August in Psychology Today, which suggested starting small and working with a re-entry buddy to help build confidence. Emma Warnock-Parkes, a clinical psychologist and researcher on social anxiety disorder at Oxford University, says this anxiety is perfectly normal: Quoted this week in the Guardian, she said, “We’ve all been social deprived this last year, and when you haven’t done something for a while, it can be a bit strange going back into it.” Don’t avoid social situations, though, she advises: “Avoidance incubates anxiety.”

But my social anxiety– and yours too probably, if you’re reading this – is compounded by my hearing loss. Even one-on-one conversation in a relatively quiet space can be difficult, especially if people continue to wear masks. For most of us, conversation of any sort in a group or social setting is a challenge, and an even larger one when we can’t read lips.

So what can we do to prepare?

I like the idea of a re-entry buddy. Take your first steps with someone you trust. That could be another person with hearing loss, or it could be a hearing person. But whoever the buddy is, and however well they hear, focus on your own ability to communicate. Don’t let them do it for you. They’re just there for moral support.

Use your assistive devices. If you have a Roger Pen or one of the excellent clip-on or mini-mics made by other manufacturers, don’t be shy about using it. If we are all still wearing masks though, the assistive device may amplify sound but not clarity. Masks muffle sound even when amplified by a mini-mic. See-through masks help with speechreading but also muffle sound.

Use a captioning app. Otter.ai and Google Live Transcribe are both free to people with hearing loss and easy to use. They’re also accurate. Show it to the person you’re talking to and briefly explain. Usually, “I don’t hear very well and this captioning app helps me follow conversation,” is enough. I find that hearing people are often fascinated by the app and want to get it themselves for recording conversations. Readers, if you use other captioning apps, please let me know about them in the comments section.

Start small, preferably with people who also have hearing loss. Practicing with people who know exactly what you’re going through may give you confidence to try out communication with a group of hearing people.

If you’ve been comfortable in your pandemic cocoon, re-entry may be hard. But it’s important. Isolation can lead to depression, and both contribute to cognitive decline. Those of us with hearing loss are already at higher risk of early onset and more severe cognitive decline. It’s important that we take the steps available to us – like being part of a close social network – to offset this risk.

If you’re concerned about re-entry, please share your thoughts. If you have ideas about how to make it easier, please share them too.  

***

For more about living with hearing loss, read my books “Smart Hearing: Strategies, Skills and Resources for Living Better With Hearing Loss” and “Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can’t Hear You.” Both are available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.com.