5 Things You Can Do To Cope With Social Anxiety
It can be difficult to really feel 100% comfortable in social situations. Most of us become hyper aware of how we look, what we say, and what people might be thinking about us as we interact with them.
It’s a very normal, very human experience.
However, when those thoughts become restrictive, they can prevent you from wanting to participate in social activities due to fear or anxiousness of what might happen or what people think.
Social anxiety disorder can feel like it controls your life, but by learning a few coping mechanisms, you can take small steps toward being able to feel comfortable in social scenarios.
#1) Learn About Anxiety
A great place to start when developing ways to cope with your social anxiety is by really learning more about what social anxiety actually is. Sometimes, when you can approach struggles from an educational angle and make an effort to really be informed, it can take some of the power away and make anxiety seem less overwhelming.
For instance, did you know that social anxiety is one of the most common mental health struggles that people face? Even though you may feel like you’re alone, you’re really not. It’s just that most people don’t talk about it, and often go through it in silence. That adds up to around 15 million Americans.
Just knowing that you’re not nearly as alone as social anxiety may make you feel can help you find the motivation that you need to start to take charge.
It’s also important that you understand that anxiety is a natural response. When your brain perceives danger, it triggers a response known as fight or flight. The basic idea is that, faced with a trigger, your body can do one of two things. One, it can help power up your body so that you can get away from the situation (known as flight). Or two, it can give you the courage and ability to “fight” the perceived threat. In either case, your system is flooded with adrenaline, which is why short-term symptoms of social anxiety often include increased heart rate and anxious thoughts during social interactions.
In addition, the concern about what others think about you is also a normal part of human nature. We are social in nature, and rely on a sort of “pack mentality” to survive. Being worried about having others judge you keeps pack harmony. It’s when that reaction is blown out of proportion or becomes a legitimate phobia that it can really become a problem.
#2) Identify Your Triggers
Although some anxiety is just a normal part of life, social anxiety can also evolve from a negative experience or trauma in your life. Being able to identify what those triggers are and seeking help to deal with them in healthy ways can really help you manage your anxiety.
If your social anxiety stems from a specific social situation, like making eye contact during small talk or public speaking, once you’re aware of what bothers you, you’ll be more prepared to know what makes you nervous, which in turn can help you start to slowly begin to confront it and improve your social skills. Known as exposure therapy, being able to learn to deal with that fear of social situations while still being able to have an out and not be completely overwhelmed is a great way to cope with your anxiety feels by using baby steps.
Unfortunately, social anxiety triggers and your specific feared situations aren’t always obvious. It can take a lot of work to really determine what they are and where they come from, especially if you're an introvert to begin with. During the process, you may notice that physical symptoms of anxiety and negative thinking gets worse in some cases that don’t usually bother you, as you’re in a more high-alert state of mind. This is nearly always temporary, as your anxiety fights back and tries to chip at your self-confidence by invading with self-consciousness. This is where being aware ahead of time that anxiety may come can help you get through it easier if and when it does arrive.
#3) Breathe Your Way Through It
When anxiety has its claws in you, it can feel overwhelming. It builds and builds, and before you know it, you may feel like you’re struggling to breathe.
If you can learn how to breathe through these feelings, it can remind you that you actually can breathe, also giving you a chance to recenter yourself so that you can reset and move forward.
There are specific breathing strategies to consider when you’re experiencing bouts of anxiety. For instance, try to breathe from your abdomen. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths, so that you can feel your stomach filling up with air. A good place to start is by laying in bed at night, with your eyes closed and one hand resting on your abdomen. As you breathe in, feel your hand start to rise. As you breathe you, feel your hand start to sink. Don’t wait to work on your breathing until you’re in the middle of a panic attack; practice makes perfect, and can prepare you for when you really need it.
Once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it, practice it in different places. Try it when you go to the store, or in the bathroom at work. Being able to bring your anxiety down in any setting will help you with your anxiety overall. What you want is for it to feel natural, and for you to be able to call on it whenever you need it to help you relax.
You may also want to combine your breathing with other healthy coping mechanisms, like taking a mental health supplement designed to support emotional wellness and help with feelings of overwhelm. It isn’t always the supplement that helps, sometimes it’s just the simple act of taking it that can refocus your brain and allow you to calm down. Taking a moment to yourself, breathing, and using other tools to help you cope is a healthy way to show your anxiety who’s boss.
#4) Change Your Focus
When you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, your focus gets pulled inward. You pay attention to everything that’s going on with your body… your racing heart, your shaking hands, how ridiculous you think you may look, whatever everyone is thinking about you. It can be incredibly hard to change where your attention lies, but there are some tricks that you can use to take that first step toward refocusing.
One trick that many people find incredibly helpful is to remind yourself what is real.
For instance, if you start to feel anxious and your brain starts to spin out of control, find three things around you that are real. Touch the chair you’re sitting on and think to yourself… “this chair is real. I can feel the chair under me, and I know it is real.” Do that with a few other things as well, no matter what they are.
Once you’re done, think about your anxiety. Remind yourself that, unlike the chair, your anxiety is not real. It is not palpable. This can help remind you that you have power over your anxiety, even if sometimes it’s a little tough to access that power.
#5) Embrace Who You Are
Social anxiety is a liar. It will tell you that you aren't good enough for new friends or even family members, that everyone has negative thoughts about you. It will say whatever it has to say to drag you down.
The best way to counteract that is to really learn about yourself and embrace who you are, the good and the bad. This can take a lot of time and effort, because undoing all of the self-conscious harm that being that judgmental of yourself has done can be a long process. Be patient, go slow. Understand that nothing worth doing comes easy. But, in the end, you are absolutely worth the struggle.
You may also find that you’ve started to really define yourself by your social anxiety. This is a normal coping mechanism, even if it’s an unhealthy one. In order to protect yourself from all of the stress that anxiety can throw at you, you take that anxiety on as a personality trait. But that doesn’t have to be who you are.
Learn about yourself in small increments. Learn to like yourself. Learn to push aside those negative thoughts that can suck you into a black hole. It really is one of the best, kindest things that you can do for yourself.
In addition, developing a positive and healthy sense of self esteem is a great way to be able to take control of your social anxiety.
Social anxiety can make it hard to live your normal life without constant dread. It can stop you from doing things that you used to love, and can begin to really harm your relationships with the people around you.
PYM wants to help you take charge of your life again, and we hope that the coping mechanisms we’ve discussed today can help you find a place to start.
Additionally, on top of self-help, taking advantage of the medical advice and psychotherapy that a mental health professional can offer like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can work wonders on helping you overcome your social phobia. You may even find that support groups offer a route to improvement as you learn to interact and speak in front of others going through the same struggles.
All it takes is a little patience and a lot of understanding of exactly what social anxiety is to take your power back.