Eunice Kilonzo: This article by Lisa Bonos puts to words the feeling of social awkwardness I was trying to wrap my head around. In particular, an expert’s quote stood out for me—a psychologist who said: ‘Social interaction is a million things knitted into one. It’s turning thoughts into speech, making eye contact, entering and exiting a conversation.’”
In November 2021, I tweeted: “Anyone else struggling to get back to their social interactive self that existed before the pandemic? Realising all those in-person interactions helped to shape my social interactions. Any tips on how to deal with this social awkwardness?”
I am an extroverted multimedia storyteller based in Nairobi, Kenya. I thrive in social interactions. But these were stifled in the two years of the COVID-19 lockdown. Everything was happening virtually and for the right reason. A viral infection had brought everything across the world to a grinding halt.
There were a few silver linings: Virtual engagement kept the virus at bay; I was able to interact with a broader group of people–colleagues, friends, family, mentors–that I would otherwise not have met without the logistics of travel; I was able to work on my thesis much faster than before; and rarely would I be caught in an impromptu meeting unless I had diarised it.
But now, two years later, a casual conversation with a stranger is difficult. I get anxious when I know I’m meeting someone in person. I realised it’s not better with colleagues I kept in touch with via emails and phone calls. I am not sure if I’m communicating correctly.
My tweet gained attention—online and offline—from introverts who were ‘glad’ with one notable response: “a less social lifestyle suits me better now!” JOMO—the joy of missing out—has replaced FOMO. For the extroverts I spoke to though, they related to how difficult it has been with being socially excluded. I was not alone after all.
I have compiled some articles that helped shed light on this feeling of social awkwardness due to the pandemic. I hope you also gain valuable tips on managing social anxiety and awkwardness now that the world is slowly opening up.
Image by Sean Gladwell/Getty Images
EK: “This article by Arlin Cuncic offers valuable tips to cope as we return to more socialisation, especially the encouragement that ‘just because things are hard right now doesn’t mean that they will feel this way forever.’”
EK: “This journal article by three African authors offers a scientific view of how the implementation of COVID-19 containment measures curbed the spread of the pandemic. However, the efforts inadvertently led to indirect consequences, such as heightened feelings of uncertainty, unrest, loneliness, job losses, grief, no social interactions, gender-based violence, substance abuse and post-traumatic distress resulting from physical isolation from friends, family and community networks. My takeaway was that the emerging mental health issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic may evolve into long-lasting health problems that we cannot afford to ignore. As such, it is imperative to integrate mental health interventions into public health plans and emergency responses.”
EK: “This article unpacks how the pandemic made us asocial, at least in physical terms and why we may have to ‘re-learn how to sit in a room with another human.’ In addition, it provides valuable links to additional articles that expound on the topic, such as some areas around social awkwardness I did not know about, such as people having nightmares about social distancing!”
EK: “Kate Murphy provides excellent background and context of what happens during extended periods in isolation and likens social skills to muscles that atrophy from lack of use. Her article reports isolation, such as occasioned due to the pandemic, causes people to be more ‘socially anxious, impulsive, awkward and intolerant when they return to normal life,’ but it’s not a pathology or mental disorder.”
EK: “I like Ashley Welch’s solutions-based tips and advice on when to seek help when social anxiety worsens.”
EK: “This video episode of Africa Health Check shows how the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession negatively affected people’s mental health. This further creates new barriers for people who already have mental illness, particularly with widespread social isolation resulting from necessary safety measures and the risk of job/income losses that increased people’s anxiety and depression.”
Eunice Kilonzo is a multi-award winning writer, communications and (social) media specialist, currently a manager of content generation at Safaricom PLC. Her immediate former role was with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) HQ in Nairobi, Kenya, as a social media and content consultant.
She is fascinated with newer forms of storytelling and content creation, generation and sharing. Beyond writing, she mentors upcoming media and communications professionals, and helps people review their CVs and cover letters.
She has a Bachelors (Political Science, Communications and Literature) and Masters (International Relations) from the University of Nairobi. In addition, she has an Executive Certificate in Global Health Diplomacy from the Graduate Institute Geneve. She is currently pursuing a Professional Certificate in Marketing from Strathmore University.