Do you feel paralyzing anxiety in group situations? Do you avoid speaking for fear of embarrassing yourself? Are you turning down social obligations because they make you extremely uncomfortable? Each of these signs indicates that you might be struggling with social anxiety. While it’s common and even beneficial, to feel nervous during particular situations (before an interview, or during a presentation) those with social phobia experience this anxiety in more extreme or upsetting ways.
Unlike shyness or occasional nervousness, social anxiety can prevent people from participating in day-to-day activities. Making phone calls, meeting new people, or being asked a question during a meeting can provoke serious anxiety. When the social anxiety is at its most intense, those struggling may eventually choose to opt out of any activity that could possibly put them in this situation. Living with social anxiety can feel paralyzing, and even though it may seem impossible, there are actually many practical steps you can take to tackle it.
Learn about anxiety/identify your triggers
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders. Social anxiety is one of the most common subsets of anxiety disorders. It’s important to recognize that you’re not alone in your struggle, and just because you suffer from social anxiety, that doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with you. Small amounts of anxiety are actually normal, as they help prepare and notify us when we’re in danger, so the goal is to manage anxiety, rather than “cure” it. Knowing this can change the way you approach anxiety moving forward.
Identify your triggers
To an extent, everybody’s anxiety is different. So while it’s crucial to learn about general anxiety, it’s more important to familiarize yourself with your own. Consider which particular situations make you the most anxious, like mingling with coworkers or speaking up in a group, for example. Identify what your triggers are and what your response to these triggers look like. Do you feel lightheaded? Does your heart start to race? Do you break out in a sweat? Make notes of your responses to particular situations so that you can tailor your anxiety management to your needs.
Deep breathing and muscle relaxation can help calm the physical sensations that accompany anxiety. When the physical sensations are better controlled, your mental state can be more easily managed. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation will never completely eliminate anxiety, but they’ll make it easier to get through your stressful situation.
Take preventative measures
If you know that you suffer from social anxiety, preventative measures can sometimes be even more helpful than the coping skills you engage in at the time. For instance, getting regular exercise and enough sleep both help curb anxiety and are easy habits to engage in every day. Because caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all intensify anxiety, make an effort to cut back on these behaviors. If you already have these tools in place, the next anxiety-provoking situation will be easier to manage.
Do what makes you anxious
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway is one of the most productive ways to manage social anxiety. Once you feel equipped to cope with your phobia, try putting yourself in the position to counter it. It’s okay to take baby steps and tackle the “easier” situations first. For instance, if public speaking is your absolute biggest fear, don’t volunteer to present at next week’s meeting. Instead, join your coworkers and participate in lunchtime conversations and slowly work your way up to something bigger.
If social anxiety is hindering your daily lifestyle, it might be time to seek professional help. Contact me to set up an appointment, and learn more about anxiety treatment today.