5 Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder that affects about 7% of the adult population in the US. Most of those people, approximately 75%, experience their first symptoms as a child or a teen. So what exactly is social anxiety?
Social anxiety is generally defined as an intense fear or anxiety associated with being in a social situation in which you are feeling scrutinized and/or judged. It can involve situations like talking with people you are unfamiliar with, going to a place you do not know, having a conversation, eating in public, giving a speech, or otherwise performing in front of others. Generally, the person with social anxiety becomes afraid that others will think less of them, judge them harshly, or that they will become embarrassed. Your fears might also include being fearful that everyone will notice your physical symptoms such as blushing, trembling hands, e sweating, having your mind go blank, or that your legs are shaking. Because of these fears, the person experiencing social anxiety will likely start to avoid these types of situations, which ultimately tend to reinforce the anxiety and make it worse.
If left untreated, social anxiety can worsen over time. The anxiety becomes more intense and it can spread to other situations which previously did not cause fear. Because of this, it is better to seek help as soon as possible.
Complications of Social Anxiety
Social anxiety can often lead to other problematic behaviors and issues. These, as well as the anxiety, can include cause negative effects in your life and can include:
Poor social skills and relationship issues
Difficulty being assertive with others
Hypersensitivity to criticism or perceived criticism
Problems with drugs or alcohol
Low academic or work performance
How to Cope
Although it is very tempting to avoid those situations that have been making you anxious, I really want you to try not to do this. As I said above, this will only reinforce the anxiety and cause it to get worse. Instead, I would ask that you try to confront your fears head-on because ultimately, this is what will help you to decrease the anxiety that’s plaguing you.
I know that this can be a very difficult thing to do so I have outlined some strategies below to help you do this. Remember though, if you are having trouble facing your fears on your own, you can always reach out to someone for help. There is absolutely no shame involved in reaching out for help- we all need a helping hand at different points in our lives! And don’t forget that counseling is confidential so only the people you choose to tell that you are in therapy will know.
5 ways to cope with social anxiety
1. Deep Breathing. I tell this one to a lot of my clients, and that’s because it really works! If you get into a situation where you feel your anxiety starting, immediately take a couple of deep breaths. There are lots of different techniques out there, but in its simplest form, take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, then blow it out through your mouth. You should always try to be taking your deep breaths from your abdominal area and should notice your stomach rising and falling rather than your shoulders.
2. Bring someone with you who is supportive and non-judgmental, at least when you first try confronting your anxiety. It will help to have their support close by. Tell them what strategies you are using so if you forget in your moment of anxiety, they can remind you what you planned on trying.
3. Pay attention to your thoughts. Often our fears are caused not so much by the situation, but rather by our thoughts about it. Are you thinking something like, “Everyone is staring at me”, “What if everyone hates me”, “Now they all think I’m stupid”? These types of thoughts are illogical distortions and not factual. We tend to act as if every thought we have must be true, but they really aren’t. Instead, I’d like you to question your thoughts. Look around to see if everyone is really staring at you. Ask yourself if everyone really hates you? Are you stupid? No? Then why would people think that and even if they do, why should you care- they’ll figure it out eventually. Then you can replace these irrational thoughts with more helpful ones like, “I may be I’m uncomfortable now, but I know from my own experience that the anxiety will get better”, or “I’ve had this anxiety before and survived so I know I can do it and I didn’t lose any friends over it then, why would I now”.
4. Start small. Maybe just by saying “hi” to the cashier while smiling and looking her directly in the eye. Or go to the mall and walk around for 5 min. Do this small thing over and over until you can do it comfortably and without anxiety before stepping up to something a tiny bit more difficult. This will help you to build on your successes. And don't forget to take some deep breaths prior to starting and really throughout the exercise.
5. Praise your small gains. Yes, ALL of them! What you are doing is difficult and you deserve some credit for it! Don’t think about the next step you have to take until after you’ve celebrated the success you just had on the current step. This will help you to remain motivated, and may even help to improve your self-esteem, and who doesn’t need that?
For More Information
The thing to remember most about social anxiety is that there is help. Anxiety treatment can be very effective in reducing symptoms allowing you to live a normal life. So please, if you are having trouble coping with your anxiety on your own, reach out for help.