5 Powerful Ways to Help Overcome Social Anxiety
Humans are naturally very social creatures -- we are meant to be around other people. When we experience difficulties that stop us from being able to do that, the absence of socialization can be just as much of a struggle as the anxiety that comes from it.
Sound confusing? That’s just how social anxiety feels.
Hopefully today we can help provide some strategies to help overcome even a portion of your social anxiety, with a few, powerful methods that you can start using today.
We’ll start with one of the easiest ways that you can work on your social anxiety, which also happens to be something you can do anywhere you are at any time, free of charge.
When you start to feel that familiar social anxiety start to build -- the pounding heart, the sweaty palms, the urge to literally run away from the situation -- stop what you’re doing and take a big, deep breath.
If you can, try to find a quiet place so that you can have a few moments to yourself. Sit down, if possible.
Once you’re comfortable, take as big of a breath as you possibly can. We’re talking a huge, deep, cleansing breath that goes on and on until you feel like your lungs can’t possibly hold any more air. Hold that air in your lungs for at a count of four before letting all of it back out again until your lungs feel empty.
Repeat that as many times as you need until you feel your heart rate and breathing return to normal.
#2) Rank Your Fears
If you’re ready to start taking steps to reduce your social anxiety, a great place to start is by writing those fears down. For many, the simple act of writing them down takes some of their power away, at least enough of it that you can start taking baby steps toward facing them head on.
Start by writing down all of the social situations that make you anxious. Try to be as thorough as possible. Once you have a comprehensive list, give each of them a number from 1 to 10, with 1 being a situation where you would feel almost no anxiousness and 10 being situations where you would be the most likely to have a panic attack, leave, or avoid completely.
If you feel like going into more detail, you can write a small description or notes as well, describing how you think you may feel when you’re in that situation, or even coping mechanisms you’ve found helpful such as making eye contact or physical contact with a friend or family member when you start to get nervous.
This can help you during the next part of the process, where you begin to really face your fears.
#3) Try Socializing In Small Doses
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of heading to a family party or another more crowded social function, try socializing in smaller doses.
Coffee houses are a perfect way to try socializing in smaller doses while not getting too overwhelmed by the amount of people and what’s required of you. You can even try going during less busy hours, so that there will be fewer people there and (hopefully) less reason to feel nervous.
A good place to start is by just ordering a coffee and trying to have a little small talk with the person behind the counter. While that may seem like a small step to start with, it will help make you more comfortable with random conversations with people you don’t know, which can help you make progress toward being less anxious in these types of situations.
While you’re there, take note of how you’re feeling. Don’t judge yourself for having those feelings, just be aware of them and maybe even write them down. This can help you find patterns, as well as identify things that can help you feel more comfortable in social settings.
Plus, coffee is delicious. It’s a win-win.
#4) Practice Mindfulness
A large part of social anxiety is the inability to live in the moment. Instead, many people who deal with this condition find themselves focusing very strongly on unpleasant scenarios that may occur in the future or scenarios that they feel have embarrassed them in the past. This creates a sort of brain loop, where you can’t see the reality of the situation and end up focusing on what-if’s.
This is where mindfulness can come in. Practicing mindfulness can help you to be more present in the moment, which also means that you can develop the ability to recognize when your brain may be focusing on possible scenarios versus what’s actually taking place.
Once you’re able to see the forest for the trees, so to speak, you can learn to manage your social anxiety. When you’re starting to feel anxious in a social setting, you can remind yourself in that moment that those feelings are only temporary and that they can and will pass.
To start practicing mindfulness, all you need is a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and a few minutes to yourself. Begin by finding a comfortable position, whether that is laying on the ground or a bed, or sitting in a traditional cross-legged yoga position on the floor or a cushion.
If you are uncomfortable when you try to meditate, it will immediately distract you and take you out of the moment, so do your best to find a way of sitting or lying where your body is comfortable and relaxed.
Once you’re ready, simply focus on your breathing as you count both your in and your out breaths.
Expect that, at first, this may be more difficult than you think. Being able to work on acknowledging your thoughts and letting them slowly pass by, and not focusing on them or giving them more power than they deserve, is a skill that you will develop over time.
It isn’t something that comes naturally to anyone at all. That’s why meditation, and mindfulness, is referred to as a “practice.” You really do have to practice it so that you can get better. A few minutes at a time is a great place to start. Once you feel more comfortable with that, you can try it for longer periods. Just be patient with yourself.
#5) Make Some Positive Lifestyle Changes
While much of social anxiety (the vast majority, in fact), is related to your mental health, there are also some physical things that you can do to help position you to take control of how you feel.
For instance, one of the best things that you can do for both your body and your mind is to increase the amount of exercise that you get (preferably outside of the house). There have been plenty of studies that show how beneficial exercise is for you on a physical level, helping to lower your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
However, many people aren’t as aware of the positive impact exercise can have on your mental health as well.
When you exercise regularly, you’re allowing your body to produce specific hormones that can help change the way you feel (both physically and mentally). Hormones and endorphins flood the system, which can trigger a variety of positive effects throughout your body.
For instance, these hormones can reduce your perception of pain, help manage the “stress” hormones in your body (mostly cortisol), and just promote an overall feeling of wellness and happiness.
In addition, increasing your exercise can have an impact on your self-esteem. The better you feel about yourself, the more confident you are likely to feel in social situations. Over time, you may be able to do things you never thought possible before, all from a little extra exercise.
Another very important lifestyle change that you can make to help your social anxiety is to focus on your sleep schedule. Lack of sleep, especially over a longer period of time, can cause a large amount of both physical and mental stress.
Not only are you more likely to get sick or be involved in an accident, you are also far less able to manage emotional distress, and may overreact to things that would normally not bother you. Getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night per the CDC, especially when combined with regular exercise and a focus on eating a healthy diet can be a total gamechanger. You can even add mental health supplements to help support overall emotional wellness by giving you the nutrients your brain needs to feel calm.
Social anxiety can feel like it has taken over your life, but it doesn’t have to. With a little luck and a lot of practice and help, you can utilize these tools and tricks to help you start to overcome your social anxiety.
PYM is here to help, no matter what. Believe in yourself, and the rest will fall into place.