Well, it happened again. Another panic attack, another uncomfortable conversation, another excuse of feeling sick when you just don’t want to go out. You might shrug it off as being a bit introverted, and maybe that really is it. In other cases, however, maybe this anxiety is so crippling that you’re always judging yourself and thinking negative thoughts. Sound familiar? What you might be dealing with is called social phobia, more commonly known as social anxiety. A whopping 7% of the population has dealt with social anxiety at some point in their lives, while an even higher 13-14% has developed lifelong social anxiety. Whether you struggle with social anxiety, or a loved one does, it doesn’t have to be the definition of your personal life. Here are seven great tips to get you started on overcoming your social anxiety:
ACCEPT THAT SOCIAL ANXIETY IS SOMETHING THAT YOU STRUGGLE WITH.
They always say that acceptance is the first step. For those struggling with social anxiety, this can be extremely difficult. The reason this can be so hard is because many people with anxiety, not just social anxiety, have been told to “get over it” or to “shake it off”, as if it was that easy to manage. The problem with anxiety, or any mental disorder, is that they have the poisonous ability to make irrational thoughts seem completely rational. With distorted thinking like this, how are we supposed to help ourselves? If at all possible, try your best to take a step back, acknowledge that you are not overreacting, that you are not defined by your disorder(s), and that you can get through it.
BRING A TRUSTED FRIEND ALONG TO SOCIAL GATHERINGS.
These types of situations can be some of the most difficult for someone with social anxiety to deal with. If you’re going to be in a new situation or meeting new people, and you feel anxious, try to bring a close friend along. This will help reduce your feelings of anxiety, because they’re familiar, and hopefully they understand what you’re going through. Should things become uncomfortable, and you need to leave, you have someone to minimize the effect of your departure/someone to reassure you that you aren’t overreacting. This leads into…
CARRY A NOTEBOOK WITH YOU.
It doesn’t have to be a notebook. You can use the notes app on your phone, or text yourself details, but it’s of the utmost importance to record details about certain events so that your anxiety can’t distort them later. Cognitive distortions are some of the biggest struggles people with anxiety and depression face – they are caused by the disorders themselves, and are self-perpetuating negative thoughts that eventually become reality for those afflicted. If you carry around a notebook and write notes about certain situations (i.e. having a conversation, what they said, how you felt, what you were anxious about), and re-read these notes later, this will be able to undermine the toxicity of cognitive distortions. You’ll be reviewing a past situation in a current situation; one that is not actively causing anxiety. Since your thoughts will be less distorted, you’ll be able to appreciate the interaction without being afraid.
RECOGNIZE THAT YOU ARE A TALENTED INDIVIDUAL.
This one particularly applies to those that experience social anxiety in performance-based situations: singing in front of people, public speaking, et cetera. Start by practicing your speech, song, or instrumental piece at home, or in front of a small group of close friends and family. Since you trust them, and know they won’t judge you, your anxiety will not be spiraling out of control and you’ll feel reassured. If that same group of people (or some of them) accompany you to your big performance, they will be able to watch and affirm you. Additionally, practicing for yourself is beneficial, because you can feel free to make more mistakes. It’s easier said than done, but try not to beat yourself down too much if you mess up while practicing alone. That happens to world-class speakers, vocalists, and performers.
ASK PEOPLE QUESTIONS.
If you happen to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation or dialogue with someone that you don’t know, asking them a lot of questions can be very helpful with facilitating small-talk. If you ask a lot of questions, you get to learn about the person that you’re talking to, which helps to facilitate future discussions with them – instead of feeling intensely uncomfortable as you try to engage in conversation. Additionally, they’ll be friendlier toward you, because people like to be asked about themselves.
PRACTICE YOUR BREATHING.
There’s a reason that psychotherapists begin hypnosis and visualization techniques by emphasizing deep breaths! There are several kinds of breathing exercises: some that are aimed at meditation, some that are aimed at anxiety-reduction, some that are aimed at pure relaxation. Find some breathing exercises that work for you, and practice, practice, practice! This is one of the sure-fire ways to prevent an anxiety attack.
And, if it really comes down to it…
ASK A PROFESSIONAL FOR HELP.
If your anxiety simply won’t respond to your management techniques, it could be worth finding a local psychologist or psychiatrist to help get you on a treatment plan. Don’t feel like your anxiety is making you deeply flawed – there are lots of people that pursue psychotherapy because other options simply weren’t working for them. If you’re unsure where to begin, or don’t have the economic means to find a mental health professional on your own, begin by asking your General Practitioner what they recommend doing.
Just because you struggle with anxiety doesn’t mean it has to rule your life. There are ways to get help, and people that love you that want to help. Treatment will likely feel very uncomfortable and distressing, but that’s often the case when it comes to coping with mental illness.