What do you talk about when you’ve talked to a screen for two years?
You can’t exactly mute yourself on Zoom at a restaurant. Turning off your camera isn’t an option either.
If you’re struggling with the idea of talking to someone over lunch for an extended period of time again, then Dr Grant Blashki, lead clinical adviser at Beyond Blue, recommends you arrive at your next event prepared.
“Pick three topics,” Dr Blashki told The New Daily.
“Everyone loves to talk about their holidays – what they’re planning and where they’re going. It’s a good, safe topic.”
The latest Marvel movie or Netflix series, as well as the upcoming festive season, are also easy topics to turn to when in doubt.
See also: The topic of work and kids returning to school.
If you’re wondering where to go, pick a place you’re familiar with.
Kate Reynolds, Professor of Psychology at the Australian National University, said it’s about rebuilding your confidence in the outside world.
Professor Reynolds advised going to places you spent a lot of time at before lockdown, so there’s a sense of familiarity there.
“Some people might wear masks, because that makes them feel safe. They might only go out for short periods of time or catch up with people for coffee, versus an extended dinner,” she said.
“Those kinds of things can help give people confidence, so they do feel safe in a wider number of places and with a wider number of people.”
As Dr Blashki said, it’s normal to be worried about getting back out there post-lockdown.
“That’s just being a human being,” he said.
But sometimes it’s not just nerves affecting your ability to travel beyond your living room. Sometimes it’s actually social anxiety.
Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that 10 per cent of the Australian population experiences social anxiety in a lifetime, with 4.7 per cent experiencing it in a 12-month period.
Many of Dr Blashki’s patients who experience social anxiety tell him they often feel like their minds race and they’re very concerned about what other people are thinking.
Physical symptoms can differ between individuals, but include blushing, sweating, trembling and rapid heart rate.
To tell the difference between general nerves and social anxiety, Dr Blashki often asks his patients how much the anxiety is affecting their relationships, both personal and professional.
If a patient responds that they aren’t going out any more, or that their personal relationships have disintegrated, that’s an indicator of social anxiety.
“If it’s particularly associated with avoidance or self-treatment with alcohol, you need some help,” Dr Blashki said.
He recommends visiting your GP for a mental health plan, who can then refer you to a psychologist. You can also access a mental health plan remotely via Telehealth.
“They’ll teach you these techniques that we call cognitive behavioural therapy,” Dr Blashki said.
These techniques decode the self-talk going on in your mind, such as the negative chatter telling you to leave a social situation as soon as possible.
“It’s about reframing that knot of thinking that people get themselves into.”