5 Ways to Cope With Social Anxiety
Some people have social anxiety constantly, while for others it arises only in some particular social situations, according to Justin Weeks Ph.D., director of the Center for Evaluation and Treatment of Anxiety at Ohio University.
Social anxiety manifests differently in people – some experience it when it comes to public speaking, while others are even anxious when they are supposed to eat in front of other people or make small talk. As Weeks says, social anxiety usually arises when a person fears of evaluation, whether it’s positive or negative. They are scared of not doing well at work, for example, and being reprimanded for it, but they also fear what will happen if they are better than their coworkers and how they will be treated because of it.
For those reasons, people with social anxiety try not to stand out in any way and avoid interactions with new people. This can significantly interfere with a person’s private, as well as professional sphere of life. Luckily, there are ways to cope with anxiety and come out as a winner.
1. Learn about social anxiety.
Knowing your problem is the first and most important step in dealing with it. How can you fight something if you don’t know what you’re up against? Learning about the symptoms of social anxiety will provide you with a better look at your situation and maybe give you some ideas on how to cope with it. You will be able to understand yourself better and realize that you’re not the only one with such problems.
2. Practice deep breathing.
Even when you’re not feeling anxious, practice deep breathing. That way it will be more natural to use it when you need to cope with a panic attack. When you know you’ll be faced with a stressful situation and you’ll be anxious, do some deep breathing to prepare yourself. When you practice it every day, you won’t have to focus on it so much when the need for it comes, and you’ll be more able to engage in conversation with people. Deep breathing calms you down and slows down your heart rate, so you’ll be able to think more rationally and be more relaxed in a situation that puts you out of balance.
Another relaxation technique that can help is muscle relaxation. It includes tensing various muscles and relaxing them. This is a proven technique for decreasing the tension of the body and mind and lowering the risk of an anxiety attack.
3. Try to think more realistically.
People dealing with social anxiety usually have negative thoughts about themselves and what will happen in social situations. Some of the examples are: “I’m going to say something stupid”, “No one will like me or want to talk to me”, “People will think I’m boring”, “I’m not as interesting/smart as other people”, etc. But these are only guesses, and often not realistic ones.
Starting to think more realistically is a very important tool for overcoming social anxiety.
First, think about what exactly makes you anxious, what thoughts are making you uncomfortable and write them down. Then think about whether you’re sure something like that will happen, and how many times it actually did happen. Does your future depend on it, does someone’s opinion affect your life?
You’re not perfect. Nobody is. You maybe will make some mistakes and someone might not like you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be excluded or that a person’s opinion affects the opinions of everyone else. Accept yourself for who you are and try to appreciate it. Not being liked by everyone won’t kill you and it certainly won’t change the course of your life completely, so try to stop caring so much about what other people think.
4. Face your fears.
Avoiding situations that cause your anxiety is normal, but only sometimes. It will reduce your anxiety that particular moment, but it won’t solve your problem. The only way you can cope with anxiety is to face it and confront it. Stop avoiding situations that cause your anxiety and force yourself to interact with people – hold a public speech or do whatever else scares you the most. Once you do it, you’ll see that there really isn’t anything to be afraid of and that you’ve been overreacting.
5. Meet new people.
Once you’ve faced your social fears, it is time to start interacting more and developing your social skills. People dealing with social anxiety have a hard time making new friendships, and this may be difficult for you at the beginning, but the more you engage in conversations and become active socially, the easier it will be. One way to meet a bunch of new people at the same time is attending educational classes or engaging in group sports.