A first step is to understand exactly what causes social anxiety. And where does it stem from?
Human beings evolved the feeling of anxiety to protect ourselves from potential danger. When we feel under threat our bodies react by releasing certain hormones, like adrenaline or cortisol. They do this to:
- Make us feel more alert, so we can react to danger quickly
- Increase our heart rate, to allow blood to travel around our body to where it is needed most.
Before modern society, this anxiety response would be triggered by an immediate threat like a bear or a predator (the fight, flight or freeze response) But, these days this response can be triggered when we are not in physical danger. Something like an impolite email from a colleague or an impending social event can cause the exact same response.
We all get a bit nervous if we have to speak in front of a large group of people, right? Or if we have to meet someone for the first time? This is totally normal. There are countless ordinary situations such as this that cause people who suffer from social anxiety to get cripplingly anxious and experience the fight-or-flight response which can be really disabling to their everyday lives. Social anxiety, simply put, is the fear of social situations.
Living with social anxiety can be frustrating and as with many things, change doesn’t happen overnight. You might feel like your mind has an ability to instantly jump a million steps into the worst-case scenario! This doesn’t have to stay the same forever. You can overcome social anxiety and begin to live the life you really want for yourself.
8 Tips for Managing and Overcoming Social Anxiety
So, now that we understand it a little better, how can we begin to overcome social anxiety? See what works for you!
Understand your triggers.
One important tip is to explore what triggers your social anxiety. Is it public speaking? Crowded spaces? Unwanted attention? The key to overcoming social anxiety is to understand what sorts of situations trigger your anxiety in the first place, and to find ways to practice these situations accordingly. Ultimately, anxiety cannot be rationalized—you can’t explain to someone why they shouldn’t be feeling anxious. However, you can become numb to the effects of the anxiety via gradual exposure which desensitizes you to its triggers.
Face your fear.
Then, once you’ve understood your triggers you can make a point to confront your fears. Avoiding anxiety inducing situations perpetuates the fear. Face your fears isn’t just a cliched slice of advice. It actually works. Start small and build yourself up. If you have social anxiety around dating, start with signing up for an online dating site. Then work your way up. Remind yourself that you can do difficult things. Think about the last time you did something that was really hard. How did you do it? What helped? Pull from those resources to help you face your fears.
Remember what’s important.
Remembering what’s important can also help you overcome social anxiety. For example, the next time you feel anxiety in social situations, put life into perspective again by thinking about the people you love. Social anxiety comes from worry about what others will think of you. The best way to overcome that is to shift your focus to what is important to you. Are you living a life that you feel good about? Do you spending your time well? Are you fulfilled and happy in your relationships? These questions are inside out questions—they start with you at the centre of the question, then you bring the answers to the world outside of you. As you get comfortable living a life that is meaningful and rich for you, then you automatically get comfortable sharing your life with others.
Practice visualization exercises.
Also, try envisioning yourself excelling in social situations. This will help you to feel confident going into real social interactions. Use visualization exercises regularly. See yourself in social situations having fun, chatting with others, and feeling good in your body. Visualization is very powerful and will help you feel more confident because you have trained your brain to feel like it has already been in the situation many times successfully.
Write down your thoughts.
Try writing down your thoughts to overcome social anxiety, too. Writing down your thoughts as they come up is a great way to look at them with some perspective. With perspective, you’ll probably find that most of what’s making you anxious falls into one of two categories. Either they’re things that won’t actually happen, or they’re things you have no control over. Get in the habit of writing down what’s making you anxious and, in your head, labelling these feelings as ‘anxious.’ It will give you the perspective you need to dismiss rather than obey your anxiety.
Prepare positive corrective experiences.
Outlining a plan for success is also an effective way to overcome social anxiety. The key to overcoming anxiety is having positive corrective experiences. The best way to approach this is by identifying small steps toward target behaviour so one can gain a sense of mastery over the feared stimulus. For example, when dealing with social anxiety, if one is fearful of meeting new people because they don’t know what to say, a person can create a list outlining steps to eventually introducing themselves to someone new. A sample plan might be: First make eye contact with someone, then once comfortable doing that, wave at someone, then say ‘hi’ and so on.
It might sound obvious to say breathe. We all need to do it! However, a particular breathing style can really alleviate stress and anxiety, and if practiced regularly can reduce your anxiety symptoms significantly. Follow the link to try some qi gong exercises which are excellent for controlling any anxiety that arises. Use these techniques with visualisation exercises, and combined they can be very powerful.
Consider exposure therapy.
Finally, consider exposure therapy, which is proven to help individuals overcome social anxiety (and other forms of anxiety for that matter). One of the best ways to tackle social anxiety is through exposure therapy. This approach allows you to gradually introduce yourself to feared situations while learning how to process them with a decreased level of fear and anxiety. It’s best to try this approach with a trained professional who will begin by creating a fear hierarchy with you. This allows you to organize your feared situations and approach them in a more productive way.
I can help you overcome your social anxiety. I have helped many people with these issues and have experienced it myself in the past. If you would like support do get in touch. I’ll be happy to chat it through with you.
I have had a number of people coming to me for advice around dating and social anxiety. If this is you and you need some specialist support I can help. I also offer specialist relationship coaching. To contact me about support around dating and social anxiety please click the link below.