If you’ve ever struggled as you’re heading out the door to that work party, panicked about going to the neighborhood BBQ, or wished you could simply celebrate your birthday alone….well…you’re not alone. Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia or SAD) is the third largest mental health problem in the world today and affects up to 13% of the world’s population.
Social anxiety can have implications in every area of life: making and maintaining friendships, dating and marriage, career and work life, and even simple daily tasks. Social anxiety disorder is often misunderstood and many suffer in silence.
Symptoms might include:
• Worrying about others’ reactions
• Extreme nervousness or anxiety in social situations
• Insecurity about everything you say in social situations
• Feeling paranoid
• Avoiding social situations altogether
• When in social situations, you might experience increased sweating, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and severe anxiety
• Avoiding eye contact with others.
It is important to work with a professional counselor for support and to ensure you get a proper diagnosis, but there are ways to manage social anxiety so that it doesn’t keep you from being the best version of yourself.
Here are 5 ways you can rise above:
1. Always have a strategy. If you are leaving the house, going to work, going to a party or spending time with friends, be prepared. Look for situations, crowds and circumstances that help you to feel the most comfortable being yourself. When you arrive somewhere – always look for a calm spot where you can go if your anxiety begins to escalate. Crowds can be overwhelming so check out the patio or be okay with taking that bathroom break. Surrounding yourself with friends who know about your struggle and can support you is a big step and a familiar face can put you at ease, provide the emotional cushion you need and take you home if you just need a time out.
2. Release stress and relax before going out. By releasing stress with a nice workout or taking a warm bath before you head into a social situation, you can calm your body and help prepare it for any triggers you might experience.
3. Breathe. If your anxiety starts to creep in, your palms start getting sweaty and you know you’re about to have an episode, the first step is to breathe through the experience. If you have ever taken a yoga class, they focus on the breath and that can be a great reminder. Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold for a count of 3-4 seconds and breath out through mouth, pushing all of that excess energy and fear out into the world.
4. Press pause on the stories you are telling yourself. It might help to write down the specific thoughts that tend to race through your mind when your anxiety is triggered. Things like, “I must sound so stupid” or “I’m not pretty enough” or “What if I can’t think of anything to say?” – those thoughts have answers. Speak truth back into the narrative in your mind and have some coping statement ready and on hand to repeat to yourself. Write out a personal mantra if you need to. It will take retraining your brain to not allow those immediate thoughts to cycle through and trigger anxiety.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice. The more you avoid social situations, the more you will send a message to your mind that social situations are “dangerous.” You will have to face your fears in a sense and start taking baby steps into social situations. There is no need to dive into the deep end – start small. Go out with a few friends first before you go into a large crowd situation. We avoid what frightens us and we are frightened by what we avoid. So, pick a situation you feel comfortable trying out, find your support friend and give it a try.
There is always support available. If social anxiety has become debilitating for you, you might consider getting help. Please get in touch if you would like to speak to somebody about social anxiety disorder.