It was rare that an overly eager sales representative elevated a shopping experience in the first place. But after the pandemic, helicopter associates this holiday season might also trigger some unexpected social anxiety brought on by lockdowns. I know because it recently happened to me.
After almost two years of not leisurely shopping in person, I decided to stop by a well-known smell good store to pick up some of their signature candles. I had strategically made the trip during a smaller sale that paled in comparison to their annual event, where people waited in lines for coveted scents like champagne toast. I was immediately seized upon: “What brought you in?,” “Do you prefer fruity smells or musky?,” “Follow me! Maybe you’ll like this one.” I explained that I was in to browse and was getting along fine, but that didn’t stop the barrage. By the time an associate offered to retrieve a candle I didn’t ask for, while I was in the middle of washing my hands, my flight or fight reflex had been activated. I was between a rock and a hard spot. I wanted to drop everything and run out of the store, but I also wanted my eucalyptus snowfall merchandise. Heart pounding, I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally made it out.
Having a mild panic attack while shopping for aromatherapy products was foreign to me (it’s also ironic.) However, post-pandemic social anxiety is a growing issue that has just begun to gain more visibility.
For more than a year, state-enforced isolation became the new norm. As the world returns to a semblance of normalcy, being thrust back into social settings may take an adjustment that many of us aren’t prepared for.
“Humans are creatures of habit, so initially, adjusting to isolating at home was incredibly challenging, but now, a year later, we’re accustomed to the new normal,” said Dr Paraskevi Noulas, according to Healthline.
“Our ability to adjust is a double-edged sword because now that we’re used to isolating so much, it’s going to be yet another transition to engage with others socially in person again, both indoors and outdoors.”
While it’s suggested that both introverts and extroverts had unique challenges navigating the lockdown, studies and medical professionals predict that the disorder will become more prevalent in the coming months for everyone, and this is especially relevant for seasonal shopping. It’s also believed that post-pandemic social anxiety is distinctly debilitating for young adults ages 18 to 25.
“I want to live my life; I want to experience this college thing,” said 21-year-old Nanichi Hidalgo-Gonzalez. “But then I feel like I just want to stay home because I don’t want to go out and get anxious.”
Post-pandemic anxiety for young adults even made its way into the zeitgeist by way of Amazon’s traditionally sentimental holiday campaign. In a touching ad, titled “Kindness, the greatest gift”, a young woman attempts to return to her former life of school and partying but is quickly overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of a bustling city. Her neighbor peeps the struggle and sends her a gift that encourages stress-free camaraderie: a bird feeder for her balcony.
For anyone having trouble with, or concerned about, acclimating to how fast society seems to be rebooting, there’s hope. Dr. Iata Danovitch of Ceders Sinai encourages people to “take the time before a social event to think through exactly what parts of the upcoming interaction make them anxious, then strategize about what they can do to mitigate their concerns.” However, it’s important to remember that not all of today’s discomfort surrounding getting mix-y in social settings points to a larger problem.
Though the economy would have us run out and spend money like we didn’t just fight for our lives in isolation during a global pandemic for almost two years, the reality is it’s more than normal to feel hesitant about diving back in there.
Towards the end of my candle extravaganza, I firmly told the clerk, “I’m experiencing some social anxiety and I’d just like to purchase my things” in response to repeated solicitation of my email. She immediately nodded and carefully bagged my things.
I contacted the company to tell them that perhaps they should consider altering their infamous aggressive sales strategy while everyone gets their feet wet back into the general public, but, as of this post, I haven’t heard back.
In the meantime, while holiday shopping this year, I’ll take a note from my past experience and Dr. Danovitch’s advice on honest communication when handling this new anxiety. I may just tell sales associates I’m experiencing social anxiety as soon as I walk through the door and browse to my heart’s content.