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Post-Pandemic Social Anxiety and Back to School

Pandemic-related restrictions for social and physical distancing have eased, and kids are now heading back to school. However, some families may be feeling anxiety and stress as social interactions become more common. Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology and co-director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shares advice for families as kids head back into the classroom and return to regular socialization.

What might people be feeling as we return to social interactions?

This is a big transition for all of us. For some, especially those with social anxiety, being in quarantine was beneficial for mental health and took them out of the environment that was causing anxiety – situations with social interactions. The easing of restrictions means social interactions and activities, like heading back to school, are likely going to be the norm again, and preparing ourselves for yet another transition will be helpful.

What are tips for initiating social interactions again?

  • Ease into it by slowly including activities and interactions that will be reinforcing
  • Find social contacts who reinforce you, are positive and have taken similar quarantine measures as you
  • Use coping techniques – deep breathing and visualization
  • Practice self-care

What should I do if my child doesn’t want to engage socially in person?

This is OK and totally understandable. Ask your child what is making them nervous. Do they not enjoy the activity or individual, are they anxious or nervous, or is it something else? Try getting to the root of the anxiety first, then focus on providing coping skills, working back in slowly and checking in after an event to see what adjustments could be made for the next time.

What about transitioning out of increased screen time?

Try understanding your children’s screen use, what they are getting out of it, what appeals to them and if there is a social component they are engaging in. Work together to determine what is reasonable to expect each day, with a potential “lessening” of time week after week to “wean” off the devices.

Offer guidance, suggestions and alternate appealing options that aren’t device related. This is a great opportunity for us as parents to reduce our screen time too.

What is social anxiety disorder, and what are some signs?

Social anxiety is characterized by:

  • Persistent, intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations because you believe you may be judged, embarrassed or humiliated
  • Avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety
  • Excessive anxiety that’s out of proportion to the situation
  • Anxiety or distress that interferes with your daily living

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, then it is a good time to reach out to a physician or psychologist for additional evaluation and support. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Brain for more mental health resources.


About the Author: Dr. Katzenstein is the director of psychology and neuropsychology and co-director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Previously, Dr. Katzenstein was a private practitioner and assistant professor of Neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine/Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where she provided neuropsychological evaluations, consultations and academic coaching for children and adolescents. After graduating from Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, she completed a pediatric internship and fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Katzenstein is board certified in pediatric neuropsychology and clinical neuropsychology.


*Presented by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital | Feature photo: Getty Images 1267440179

Originally Published in August 2021

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