Social anxiety disorder is often misunderstood and many people could be suffering in silence. It’s much more than feeling shy and not wanting to speak up in big groups. It can really take control and impede your everyday life. Tasks such as leaving the house, speaking on the phone or shopping can be troubling and difficult to cope with. Anxiety Care UK states that social anxiety is a common and distressing condition with as many as 40% of the population suffering from it.
Social anxiety or phobia can have all sorts of repercussions and you may not only worry about negative evaluation but positive evaluation also. One study found that people who succeed at work might worry about outshining their coworkers. They simply don’t want to stand out, even positively.
People suffering from social anxiety disorder look to avoid social situations. About 20% of people with social anxiety also suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence, with a recent study showing a stronger correlation among women. Research has shown that women have been more affected by social anxiety however it’s men that tend to seek more help for their phobia.
Young People With Social Anxiety
Experiencing social anxiety and fear of social interactions can make simple responsibilities almost impossible to overcome. An estimated 15 million American adults have social anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. With young adolescents who are transitioning to secondary school or college being particularly vulnerable. It’s suggested that social anxiety disorder symptoms usually begin around the age of 13.
Anxiety disorders are common with an estimated 18% of the adult population experiencing an anxiety disorder every year, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. It’s safe to say that we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve felt judged, embarrassed or nervous. Whether it’s giving a presentation or going on a first date. Regular social anxiety is normal. But for those that experience intense fear of being judged or rejected in social situations, day-to-day living can be hard. The good news is that there are ways to develop new habits to help ease and overcome your social anxiety.
How to Overcome Your Social Anxiety
1. Challenge your negative and anxious thoughts
At times it may feel like there’s nothing you can do about the way you feel and how you think. In reality, though, there are a number of things that can help. Challenging your mentality and negative thoughts can be an effective way to reduce symptoms of social anxiety. Start by identifying the anxious thoughts that automatically pop into your head when you think of social situations. Next, analyze these thoughts and challenge them. Question why you think like this and if your first reaction is actually how you feel or you’re just always assuming the worst. Changing the way you think is a long journey and is not an immediate fix but the mind is a powerful thing and it is possible.
Thinking styles that fuel social anxiety and don’t help you in any way whatsoever include mind reading and predicting the future. Assuming you know what someone is thinking and it’s the same negative way that you see yourself as well as predicting the future. You just “know” that things will go wrong and it will be “awful”. Thinking like this is detrimental and challenging it is not easy but it’s so important in overcoming symptoms of social anxiety.
2. Be mindful
Being mindful and practicing mindful meditation helps you to be present and aware of your thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental and positive way. In a study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers found that meditation has effects on activity in particular areas of the brain. Participants who had normal levels of anxiety took part in four 20-minute mindfulness meditation classes. They found up to a 39% decrease in anxiety levels after mindfulness training.
Other studies have found supporting evidence that meditation and mindfulness treatment can help to reduce not only social anxiety but depression also. Research coming from the University of Amsterdam found that studies thus far suggest that mindfulness training may be a cost-effective, accessible and effective way to treat social anxiety disorder. During training, patients are taught to gain more control over their attention and ability to be present using meditation techniques.
3. Go to a coffee shop
If you enjoy watching movies online or catching up on your favorite tv show then try taking your tablet or laptop to your nearest coffee shop. Do an activity you like and feel comfortable with, in an environment that would usually make you anxious. You have the familiarity and comfort of being able to concentrate only on what you’re doing but will be pushing your boundaries. This doesn’t just apply to a coffee shop, it could work in a park or restaurant also. Hopefully, you can push yourself but remain in your mental comfort zone at the same time.
4. Create an exposure hierarchy
Identify and rate how each social situation makes you feel in terms of anxiousness. For example, 0 would mean no anxiety and 10 would be a full-blown panic attack. Make a list and write down how you think you would feel for every situation, no matter how small or big. From walking into a room at a gathering to asking a stranger on the tube for the time. It’s important to write down on a piece of paper your predictions so that when the times come to experience it, you know how you thought you would feel.
The majority of the time the thought of doing something is scarier than actually doing it and we usually cope a bit better. Test your predictions and keep a record of social situations, your predictions and then how you actually felt. You might find that talking to your co-worker was actually a 4 instead of a 9. All this helps in tracking and trying to ease social anxiety.
5. Don’t focus on yourself
It’s hard to stop the endless mind chatter when you’re in situations that make you particularly anxious. We often turn inward and focus on ourselves and how others will perceive us, almost always assuming it will be negative. The thought that everyone will be looking at you when you walk into a room and judging you in one way or another. This isn’t the case. Stop focusing on yourself and what other people are thinking of you. Focus on other people, try to be present and make genuine connections.
Although it feels like a massive flag is on your back, anxiety isn’t as visible as you may think. Even if someone notices you’re a little nervous, they’re not thinking of you negatively. No one’s perfect so try to be in the moment and actually listen to what is being said. In a small study where three job candidates were being evaluated for the same position, they chose the interviewee with great scores who spilled coffee all over himself. Instead of choosing a perfect candidate they chose someone who made a small blunder. Their reasoning was that he seemed far more approachable and he wasn’t enviable, sometimes being too perfect can have its own repercussions.
Research has shown that when people are meeting someone new, they evaluate it by how well they think they performed instead of what was actually said in the conversation. By looking at the interaction from your point of view only, the conversation may not go as well. Being a good listener and attentive are traits that are welcomed in conversation.
6. Adopt a healthier lifestyle to reduce anxiety
The mind and body are linked and how you treat your body can have a significant impact on the rest of your life including your anxiety levels. By making small lifestyle changes, can help to improve your self-confidence and your ability to cope with anxiety symptoms. Avoid or limit your caffeine intake by not drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks after a certain time. Energy drinks act as a stimulant and can increase anxiety symptoms. Make physical exercise a priority in your day and always try to be active at some point, even taking a brisk walk during your lunch hour is a great way to fit it in.
In a 2015 study, researchers found that young adults who eat more fermented foods have fewer anxiety symptoms. This was most effective in those with the greatest genetic risks for social anxiety disorder. The same study also concluded that exercise was related to reduced social anxiety.
Drink alcohol only in moderation, although it may feel like it calms your nerves, it can also increase your chances of having an anxiety attack. Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated and get enough high-quality sleep. When you’re deprived of sleep, you’re much more vulnerable to anxiety and your mood can be affected greatly. New research suggests that sleep deprivation can actually cause an anxiety disorder.
7. Take a breath
When your body experiences anxiety, many changes can take place. The physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, pounding chest, dizziness, and muscle tension. Learning to take a minute and slow down your breath can help you take back control of your body. There are several breathing techniques that can help to relax and calm the body. Simply take a seat, get comfortable and take the biggest breath you’ve taken all day and hold it in for four seconds. Then exhale slowly, pushing out as much air as possible. Take another deep breath filling the stomach with air and continue until you feel your breath slowing down to its normal rate.
8. Act confidently
There are a large number of adults suffering from social phobia and crippling shyness. You can learn to be confident in the same way you learned to ride a bike. Act more confidently and people will react positively. This doesn’t mean you need to be the class clown or the center of attention. It’s just about being more assertive. Something that feels terrifying at first will gradually feel better each time. It doesn’t happen overnight and social confidence needs to be worked on in the same way you would master any other skill. If you continue to avoid social interactions, you’ll continue to feel anxious. By removing the avoidance, you will overcome your social anxiety and fear.
9. Find social situations and engage
Make a conscious effort to be more social. Actively look for supportive social environments that can help you overcome your fears. Perhaps start with a social skills training class. Here you can properly practice your social interactions before heading out into the real world. This will give you some tips on what to say and do when you find yourself in a social situation you’re unfamiliar with or anxious about.
Try volunteering doing something that you enjoy, this allows you to focus on an activity you find fun while at the same time pushing your boundaries. This could be anything from walking dogs at a shelter or helping out at a food bank, feeding the homeless. You’ll also be engaging with people who have similar interests so you’ll know at least one thing you can talk about and will have in common. Work on your communication skills and build rewarding relationships slowly.
10. Be kind to yourself
Nobody’s perfect and everyone feels embarrassed at one point or another in their life. Overcoming social anxiety is by no means easy. You’ll have times where you think negatively and slip back into old habits. If you’re feeling run down or tired, you may find yourself feeling more anxious than normal but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Just take a minute, focus on the present and practice the techniques you’ve been working on. When at times, your social anxiety returns, please be kind and patient with yourself. Self-compassion is key on your journey towards freedom. Don’t give up when you’re having a bad day and feeling down.
By overcoming social anxiety and shyness you will hopefully start feeling more confident during conversations. Talking to someone can be very challenging and knowing what to say isn’t easy. Sometimes an awkward silence can feel like it lasts a lifetime. Talking to people gradually will help you be less anxious each time. There are a few conversational techniques you can use to get you started.
Let the other person do most of the work by asking open-ended questions, questions that need more than a yes or no answer. Also, ask open-ended personal questions to take the conversation to a deeper level. It will help you get to know the person more. If you’re feeling more confident, then share personal information about yourself. This invites the other person to ask questions about it and even share something personal themselves.
12. Facing your fears
The final step is to face your fears. It’s impossible to overcome social anxiety if you don’t expose yourself to situations that make you anxious. By using avoidance as a tool to cope, you won’t be helping yourself or encouraging personal growth. Numerous studies have shown that exposure therapy, facing your fears, is effective in treating anxiety disorders. This includes social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research does suggest, however, that exposure should be applied gently. Therefore take part in social interaction or activity that only slightly provokes your anxiety and work your way up.
You need to learn how to deal with your anxiety levels that arise from particularly fearsome social situations. We’re social beings. And forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is a must to increase the chance of successful experience. Every situation you face and overcome will boost your confidence.
It’s time to speak up
It’s estimated that one-third of those suffering from social anxiety waited 10 years or more to speak to a professional. This is according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Social anxiety disorder can have a massive negative effect on numerous areas of your life. From family life to education as well as work and close relationships. Evidence shows it’s common for a person suffering from social anxiety to have experienced at least one other mental disorder.
Overcoming social anxiety is a long journey and it takes time for new neural pathways for social interactions to form. Is your social anxiety is constantly interfering with your daily life? Then don’t hesitate to seek professional help in whatever form you feel comfortable looking for. These are great ways to help overcome your social anxiety. Although it seems like an impossible obstacle, it’s so worth overcoming so you can live your life to the fullest.