Therapists in Potrero Hill and Dogpatch are helping their clients cope with a new set of issues after a rocky few years of COVID. In addition to perennial problems of holiday stress, depression, and generalized anxiety, patients are nervous about social situations and worried that they’ll be laid off, given downsizing in the tech industry and what appears to be an emerging regional economic recession.
“Re-entering the social flow after being so much more isolated is making people more socially anxious than previously,” said Deborah Whiting, MSW, who has been in practice for more than 40 years, 30 on Arkansas Street.
A characteristic feature of social anxiety is avoiding social gatherings, with worries about communal interactions complicating work, relationships, and quality of life.
Lisa Andresen, LCSW, a therapist for high-achievers and entrepreneurs with offices on Third Street, confirmed that many of her clients are seeking therapy to manage social anxiety.
“During COVID, sheltering-in-place at home wasn’t considered avoidance,” she said. “Now, people are re-emerging and some are finding it harder than others to put themselves back out there. That disconnect between wanting to connect with others and dreading it is starting to come front and center for people to the point that they’re seeking therapy to address it.”
Clients don’t necessarily state, “I’m socially anxious,” but they might describe feeling lonely, having trouble making friends, or that they don’t have a lot going on outside of work, she added.
“As we unpack it, they know all the things they need to do, but they find it hard to take action,” she said. “They say they want to hang out with friends but wonder why they spend a week preparing for it and then watch for the exit when they arrive.”
Anne Diedrich, MFT, a licensed therapist since 1995, who relocated her offices to Third Street in 2018, has noticed similar patterns. Diedrich works with children and adults, primarily new parents and those in their 20s and 30s concerned about finding and keeping partners and raising families.
“I’m noticing social anxiety cropping up in adults but it’s really apparent in kids,” she said. “I work with elementary-age kids, and teens as well, but with the younger kids, so much growth occurs in social situations. Kids lost a lot of ground during the pandemic. They lost time and new experiences with their peers. I see some kids that are really struggling and fearful of their friendships disappearing for no apparent reason; other kids have a block learning to accept that friendships go through ups and downs and that they can try to face their fear that ‘this person might not like me anymore because I did something stupid.’”
Diedrich advises parents to think of their children as socially younger than they are because of the pandemic and associated shelter-in-place and masking orders and to help them identify what they’re worried about.
“They need a little more skill and understanding on how to cope with unexpected social situations in the classroom or with their peers,” she said.
Another population that’s feeling particularly anxious and not overly social is new moms, according to Michelle Cilia, LMFT, a therapist for eight years, practicing for six on 17th Street.
“A lot of what’s come up in the last two years in my work with new moms has been the isolation of the pandemic and being a parent,” she said. “Typically, new moms spend time with one another but people are still freaked out and not doing that because they’re still worried about new babies getting COVID and now RSV is going around. There’s still a ton of isolation for that population and postpartum anxiety and depression have skyrocketed.”
Another topic making the rounds is job stress.
“There’s a lot of disillusionment in tech these days with witnessing poor leadership and layoffs,” Andresen said. “It’s hard for the people who lost their job and it’s hard for the people sticking around. The pressure to prove yourself is even higher. There are hiring freezes with fewer jobs available. People feel stuck, whether they like their job or not.”
According to Cilia, “In this area of San Francisco, the tech layoffs are really anxiety-provoking. The economy was great, the job market was great, and now it’s not. It’s a big adjustment.”
“I am hearing more from people, ‘If I make it through next week without getting laid off, I think I’m ok,’” Diedrich added.
“In this area, people either work in tech or in some way are in a service position that relates to tech and so the layoffs are really scaring people,” Whiting said. “There’s a real question of, ‘Can I recover? Can my City recover? Can my industry recover?’ Everyone is looking at the dire edge. They are privately wondering, ‘Is it just me?’ It’s not. Isolation works against our knowing that and sharing with each other.”
“With the help of an empathic professional, therapy can help you find some comfort and space to share your concerns about what’s going on that is so upsetting while also accepting there are some things you can’t control,” Diedrich said. “It can help you learn to be creative in how you respond to the slings and arrows of life.”