Social anxiety can be described as the fear of social interactions, more specifically, the potential negative consequences of such interactions, for example, being embarrassed, judged, rejected etc. With up to 7% of the general population being affected, it is the 3rd largest mental health issue. Much like other mental disorders, social anxiety disorder is one that influences many aspects of life.
People who suffer from social anxiety generally avoid social interactions and hence have a hard time communicating with others and expressing themselves openly. This hinders the progress of social and communication skills which in turn has a negative impact on their life. Often they may find themselves in situations where they wish to push through and socialize but anxiety gets the better of them.
The good news is that it’s quite possible to overcome social anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be a great treatment of social anxiety as it teaches the patient to unlearn and restructure their cognitive distortion. Besides professional therapy, there also tools that one can have to help ease their social anxiety and cope with it in their daily lives.
- Understand your anxiety.
Make note of what particular social situations you tend to avoid and to what degree. For example, do you get anxious talking to strangers? Do you get anxious in large crowds or smaller ones or both? Which of the two gets you more anxious? What symptoms appear more frequently? Are there any physical symptoms? Make a note of these. When you understand how social anxiety affects you personally, you give yourself the key to having more control over your own emotions.
2. Prepare yourself.
Once you’ve identified what particular interactions trigger your symptoms and cause a significant amount of anxiety and distress, you can begin to prepare yourself ahead of time for similar interactions in the future. Find strategies to help manage your symptoms.
3. Stay Calm
Sometimes just imagining an interaction can sometimes trigger anxiety, Learn techniques to manage and soothe your anxiety, practice them often so that you are prepared and know exactly what works for you when you need it in order to calm yourself.
4. Challenge yourself
Don’t let your anxiety hold you back from personal growth no matter how comfortable it may be. It’s imperative that you allow yourself to grab opportunities that will help you learn and improve social interactions. Instead of giving in to your anxiety and staying deep within your comfort zone, or even suddenly pushing yourself too far into a situation that is overwhelmingly challenging, take small steps that will ensure a healthy and consistent form of improvement.
5. Change your negative thoughts.
Anxiety lies and it does it so well that we believe everything it tells us without a doubt, which only makes matters worse for us. With social anxiety, people tend to perceive themselves in a negative manner when they imagine themselves in a social situation. It’s extremely important to separate your irrational thoughts from facts and question the validity of our negative self-perceptions.
Ask yourself what you think might happen in a social interaction that you’re typically anxious about. You might come up with a number of examples such as “I’ll be awkward, people will judge me. I might say something silly and people will think I’m not smart enough. I’ll get nervous and stumble. No one will like me” etc. Write these thoughts down and assess them.
Question the validity of these thoughts ask yourself how true are these perceptions? How likely are you to say something silly? Even if you do, what’s the worst that can happen? Do your best to answer honestly. Try to use CBT worksheets to help guide you.
6. Affirm yourself
‘What if my fears do come true?” It’s an ever lingering thought, one that’s hard to let go of when accompanied by anxiety but manageable nonetheless if you choose to. Instead of giving in to the thought, accept the possibility and prepare yourself for it.
At a presentation get nervous and stumble with your words that end up not making a lot of sense. What you feared has happened.
Affirm yourself: It’s ok; I’m not the only one who gets nervous, many people, even professionals can get nervous and make mistakes as a result. It’s okay, this interaction doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t represent who I am as a person. I’ll just apologize, clarify myself and move on.
Practicing affirmations can gradually help boost your confidence and make social interactions easier.
7. Don’t give up!
Some days will be tougher than others; you may find yourself in situations that will make you question all your progress and hard work but don’t let that discourage you. Keep persisting, pushing yourself to do better and seek professional help if you have the means and opportunity. Believe in your ability to overcome the challenges.