5 Ways to Cope with Social Anxiety
Have you ever had the feeling that everyone was looking at you in a crowded mall or grocery store? This feeling is enough to make you sweat, avoid eye contact with others, or just skip going shopping all together. As you walk through the store or a crowded environment with people you don’t know, you begin to wonder if they are seeing the 50 things wrong with your outfit or hair. You are your biggest critic and your biggest fear is being negatively judged by others. We all feel shy or anxious sometimes, but typical shyness does not persist to the extent of intense fear or anxiety of social situations where the person may be scrutinized by others. This falls more in line with social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
People with social anxiety disorder feel this way in many arenas from walking into a crowded restaurant to answering a question during a meeting a work. Take the latter, answering a question during a work meeting comes with the fear of being humiliated by not knowing the correct answer, even if you do know the answer. So what do we humans do when faced with fear or anxiety? Whatever we need to do to decrease the anxiety. In this instance, it is likely the individual will avoid speaking during the meeting and possibly miss work all together on days they have to present.
Anxiety or feelings of fear serve a purpose. They are meant to alert us to danger and prepare us to survive. Our body prepares for this intense fear by going into fight or flight mode and the corresponding hormones are stimulated. As a result, physical symptoms occur such as increased heart rate and muscle tension. The body prepares to respond to a physical threat, however, because there is no actual threat, the excess energy is more detrimental than beneficial.
Here are a few signs of social anxiety:
- Fear that your presentation in public will be negatively evaluated by others leading to rejection and humiliation
- Extreme fear about social situations where you could be judged
- Social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety
- Feeling insecure about everything you say and do while in social situations
- Trying to be perfect while in social settings to avoid a perceived negative evaluation from others
- Avoiding eye contact and interactions with others while in public
- Experiencing physical effects such as rapid breathing, sweating, or increased heart rate while in social situations
- Avoiding social situations all together
Social anxiety is somewhat common with as many as 12.1 percent of the general population in the United States dealing with this in any given 1-year period. You do not have to struggle and are not alone. Seek professional help if you are experiencing social anxiety and it is causing significant distress in your daily life.
Here are 5 tips to help manage social anxiety:
- Inhale and Exhale. As we become anxious, our breathing excites, mind starts racing with thoughts, and we often become tense throughout our muscles. Try taking full deep breaths as it allows more oxygen to enter the body and slows us down. Our heart rate begins to slow down and match the rhythm of our breaths. Soon our muscles relax and our mind begins to let those anxious thoughts come and go instead of keeping them on a hamster wheel.
- Don’t Mind Read. Take note of your thoughts and label them. One infamous thought distortion is “mindreading”. This is when we try to read the mind of others and tell ourselves what they are thinking about us. This is a trap as we are often wrong and our fears create a negative dialogue in our mind about what others think about us. The next time you tell yourself “everyone’s looking at me and think I don’t know what I’m doing”, identify this thinking as mindreading and ask yourself to provide proof that everyone thinks you do not know what you’re doing. If there is no concrete evidence, agree with yourself to move on.
- Do the Opposite. When social settings make people anxious, the natural thing to do is avoid social settings. This will only bring about temporary relief until the next opportunity to attend a social setting presents. When feeling the desire to avoid a social setting, do the opposite of what you feel. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, but you will survive. Not only will you survive, you will increase your confidence that you could survive another social outing. If this sounds too scary, see if a good friend will accompany you.
- You Are Enough. Know that you cannot be perfect enough, good enough, or best enough. You, as you are right now, are enough. You will make mistakes and everyone may not give you rave reviews, and that’s okay. We were not made to make everyone like us. Those that love you, think you’re amazing and that’s enough.
- Tell Someone. Let your family, close friends, or someone you trust know what you’re going through. They may be able to offer support. There is no shame in being anxious in social settings. Trying to hide or suppress your anxiety creates more anxiety.
Support is always available for social anxiety. You can start with your general practitioner if you do not already have a therapist. They can point you in the direction of a mental health professional. There are also online directories where you can find a therapist.
The content on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat, it is for informational purposes only. Please call our office at 404-618-1040 for an appointment or contact a mental health professional in your local area if you are seeking treatment.