Has your world shrunk?

Experts say that our circle of acquaintances (our social networks in the real world) have decreased by at least 25% due to lockdown and isolation. That’s a lot! It means that our world has become much smaller. We are also socially unfit and are struggling to get out there again; stuck in an invisible prison of sorts. Many people are caught in a cycle of withdrawal and are suffering from what I’m calling ‘Shrinking Violet Syndrome’.

It is time to start breaking down the social and emotional walls we have built around ourselves for protection during the pandemic. Remaining socially awkward is not a good success strategy for anyone.

We have forgotten how to be with each other and we have to consciously train ourselves to make our circle bigger again. Choosing to become socially fit takes perseverance and practice.

Social confidence is at a real low

Are you seeing or experiencing Shrinking Violet Syndrome playing out in any of these areas:

  • In your own life, personally
  • In your social circles
  • In your professional circles
  • In your children

What this leads to:

  • Self-isolation driven by fear
    • Your world contracts, it gets smaller
    • You stop sharpening your social skills
    • You lose your confidence
    • You lose your voice and stop contributing
    • You believe you have fewer choices
    • The world seems like a bad place
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
  • Opportunities get fewer
    • You think the world is against you
    • You think you are not good enough
    • Self-concept and self-belief is affected
    • Minimising who you are
  • Learning new things is less exciting
    • Because you are doing it alone
    • Because you lack real context for the application
    • Because you lack drive

Shrinking Violet Syndrome comes with a general feeling of ‘meh’ accompanied by lethargy, malaise, melancholia, apprehension, anxiety and insecurity. And it’s easy to get stuck in this gloomy place.

We have forgotten how to be with each other and how to galvanise ourselves into showing up in-person.

How is this translating?

  • Awkwardness
  • Tentativeness
  • Introverts are even more introvert
  • Extroverts are either more shy than they were, or they are overly ‘out there’
  • At seminars and workshops, networking and mingling is raising fear, especially among people who are in the early stages of their careers who didn’t have much experience in this skill before. People further along in their careers already have a well-worn blue-print for networking.
  • Some people opt to attend events online because it takes less effort; you can stay in your pyjamas, save petrol and avoid having to expend energy networking – because it does take effort to introduce yourself, ask questions and listen to other people.
  • Some youngsters in the office don’t contribute in person anymore because the screen has become their dudu blanket.
  • A year or two of doing university online and now being back on campus is playing havoc with many students who are experiencing social anxiety and are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Both adults and children (from tots to teens) are suffering from the same Shrinking Violet Syndrome. Teachers tell me:
    • Kids are battling to be in large groups again
    • They are behaving in socially- inappropriate ways
    • They don’t know how to handle conflict
    • They don’t know their place in the pecking order
    • They are used to having one-on-one attention at home – being the kingpin or queen bee so they don’t know how to wait their turn
    • Bullying is up
    • Respect is down

What you are missing out on if you avoid face-to-face events or in-person engagements:

  • Networking and making your circle bigger. If people don’t know you and what you do, you won’t get the business or be offered opportunities.
  • People want to work with people they know, like and trust, which is why people in mid-career onwards were able to work their network of contacts created over time during the pandemic. Younger people struggled with this aspect.
  • Making small talk (yes, this takes a bit of effort) in which you may discover unexpected golden nuggets of insight or intel about the person or the business they are involved in. These nuggets of information or this contact may be your next big opportunity.
  • Top-of-mind awareness is important. Who is the first person who comes to mind when someone needs a solution? Is it yours?
  • Raising your endorphin levels (happiness hormones) precisely because you are stimulating your innate emotional intelligence.
  • Learning how to handle social rejection
  • Learning how to connect with each other
  • Celebrating humanity
  • People are mirrors for our own self-discovery: reflecting aspects of us back at ourselves
  • Being curious

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing through the inertia of being out of practice is a choice. You need to get back on your bicycle.

You can do this. Here’s how:

  • Push through your own inertia and be conscious of the need to break a two-and-a-half-year-old pattern of isolation driven by fear.
  • Start small with coffee dates with one person you haven’t seen for a while.
  • Invite another family around for a braai on a weekend with their children so you all get to practice your social skills.
  • Go back to regular book club meetings and supper clubs and experience the fun and laughter that comes with human connection.
  • If in-person attendance at work events is optional, say yes and go anyway, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Car pool with someone to go to the office or to an event so you are not walking in alone, which can be intimidating.
  • Create a lift club to school so your kids socialise on the way and don’t walk alone, there is strength in numbers.
  • Encourage your children to get involved in sport and extra-curricular activities again so that they are moving, socialising and outdoors.
  • Parents, be receptive to seeking external help to get your children the help they need to develop necessary skills not developed/ lost during the pandemic.
  • If you are feeling frozen or stuck, yourself, please get some counselling or therapy rather than struggling alone.
  • Go for family walks or cycles in nature – spring is in the air, this is an ideal time.

  • Play games in social and family situations to get everyone out of their heads.
  • Process-based, team-reconnection sessions are essential at this time to help employees to bond with each other and learn how to be together again. I am doing a lot of work in this space. My Happy Juice workshop is being booked for corporate teams, staff at schools and even groups of learners. It does the trick!

Social anxiety is fuelled by avoidance so don’t shut it down and avoid every invitation. Take baby steps, go at your own pace, but be open to the adventure. A bit of regularity and rhythm is a good thing because it will help you feel more secure.

One of the things I have done recently is that I have gone back into the 702 studios on a Saturday in-person. I don’t have to. It’s a bit inconvenient because I have to get up early, get dressed and drive there. But, it’s part of me putting myself out there again, reconnecting with my show host and my audience — it’s fabulous and so good for my soul!

What action are you going to take this week to make your circle bigger instead of suffering from Shrinking Violet Syndrome? I dare you to put yourself ‘out there’, to experience your world in multiple dimensions again.




Nikki Bush
Human Potential and Parenting Expert helping you to win at work and life

Enjoy the podcast of the Refiloe Mpakanyane Show on 702, where we discussed the topic of Parent Fitness