Navigating Parenthood: A First-Time Mom’s Journey with a Child’s Social Anxiety in a Post-COVID World

By: Kyara Ramirez-Guzman, LMHC, NCC

As a first-time mom, I had no idea how complex parenting a small child with social anxiety could be. The pandemic only made things harder with remote learning, social distancing, and virtual interactions. It’s clear that COVID-19 has deeply affected mental health, especially social anxiety. I’d like to share my experience navigating these challenges as a new mom with a baby born at the start of the pandemic; and, who then struggled with separation and social anxiety during the pandemic.

As a mental health clinician, I found parenting during the COVID-19 quarantine especially tough. My child had difficulties with social interaction, and I was so emotionally invested that I didn’t immediately see the extent of the problem.

Transitioning after COVID-19 was challenging. He was not used to socializing or being around crowds of people because all he knew since birth was the house and the people we quarantined with. Visiting friends and family was not his norm, which made it difficult for him as he did not know how to regulate himself in a new environment nor around new faces. He became extremely clingy and had outbursts, crying when leaving him with aunts or uncles. Even when he was with me, he needed to be carried as his comfort was being carried by me to feel secure.

Due to the increase of outbursts when socializing, I decided to not take him out in crowds or visit new places. I preferred people visiting me, rather than visiting others. I opted to isolate. For this reason, we only visited the few places he felt comfortable with. However, once things started to re-open and life returned to a ‘new normal,’ I had to work, attend medical appointments, and schedule my own self-care time. It was then that I had come to realize that my efforts to protect him from his own fears and anxiety were actually preventing him from learning/adapting to the changes and/or becoming comfortable in new places with different people. By not exposing my child to the reality of socializing, I understood that I was causing a disservice by inhibiting him from learning the tools he needed to feel comfortable when socializing. From avoiding social gatherings to experiencing panic attacks in crowded places, it was a difficult time for both of us.

Understanding that my child’s social anxiety was not just a developmental stage was a pivotal moment in our journey. As a mental health counselor, I was aware that children experience “stranger danger” beginning at about 6 months old, and that this typically passes by 2 years of age. Logically thinking, I began to expose him little by little to these uncomfortable situations — and the more he was exposed, the more he learned the skills he needed to adapt and regulate in situations he was not used to.

These are just some of many of the strategies I used to help my son feel confident and communicate or implement what he needed in times he felt anxious. My son is now able to ask for time or space when he is in a new environment or communicate with me that he is not feeling ready or comfortable. He feels safe and comfortable to stay by my side until he is ready to interact with others around us. A few of the strategies I implemented were:

  • Modeling appropriate healthy behaviors, like asking for space or time when he was not feeling ready to greet anyone.
  • Providing a Safe Space when he is feeling overwhelmed.
  • Psychoeducation by reading age-appropriate books on anxiety and normalizing his experience.
  • Relaxation Techniques to teach calming strategies (like breathing techniques).

Experiencing this as a mother helped me better understand the struggle many individuals were having after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how one’s anxiety can hinder one’s ability to learn/adapt to the skills needed to overcome one’s struggles.

Social Anxiety in a Post-Covid World:

Research on social anxiety and COVID-19 is still developing, but the pandemic has posed unique challenges, especially for those already prone to anxiety. While everyone handles uncertainty differently, several common factors have collectively contributed to increased social anxiety during this time:

  1. Social Isolation and Distancing: Lockdowns and quarantine have led to more social isolation, heightening feelings of loneliness and discomfort in social situations for many. This lack of regular social interaction can intensify pre-existing anxiety.
  2. Shift to Virtual Interactions: The transition to remote work, online education, and virtual socializing has fundamentally changed how we interact. Navigating these online environments can be particularly challenging for those with social anxiety, adding to their stress and discomfort.
  3. Health Anxiety: The pervasive fear of illness and concerns about personal and public health during the pandemic have significantly increased overall anxiety levels. For individuals already struggling with social anxiety, these health worries can be overwhelming.
  4. Uncertainty and Change: The unpredictable nature of the pandemic, combined with economic challenges and changes in daily life, has been a major source of stress. Those with social anxiety may find it particularly hard to adapt to these constant changes, leading to heightened anxiety.
  5. Media Consumption: Constant exposure to pandemic-related news can exacerbate fears and concerns, especially for those with social anxiety. The relentless stream of distressing information can amplify their existing worries and fears about social situations.
  6. Disruption of Routine: The pandemic has disrupted regular activities and routines, such as social events, work, and school. For individuals who find comfort in predictable environments, this disruption can significantly increase anxiety levels.
  7. Impact on Mental Health Services: Access to mental health services has been affected by the pandemic due to restrictions, changes in service delivery, or increased demand. This has made it harder for many individuals with social anxiety to seek the help they need.

The cumulative impact of these factors can be significant for those who already suffer from anxiety. The combination of increased isolation, changes in social interaction, health fears, and disrupted routines can intensify feelings of anxiety and distress. Everyone handles uncertainty differently, but for those with social anxiety, these challenges can be particularly overwhelming.

Understanding these factors helps highlight the complex ways in which the pandemic has affected mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling, seeking support from mental health professionals is a crucial step towards managing this anxiety.


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