By Regina Perez, MAC
When you hear the words social anxiety, what comes to mind? Is it fear of a certain situation? Is it reemerging in daily life after a pandemic? Social anxiety is often misunderstood, and many people may be suffering in silence.
What is social anxiety?
When you break it down, it’s a form of anxiety that is brought on by social situations. This could range from a meeting or presentation to grabbing a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. This form of anxiety usually stems from a deep-seated fear of judgment, rejection, and embarrassment during social interactions.
You feel like your safety is on the line or that you’re being judged by others. Anxiety often comes before a social situation. Your mind creates different “what if’” scenarios. You fear you will be exposed or that you’ll make a mistake. You fear weakness or vulnerability or rejection.
As a result, you to cope with the anxiety. Avoiding social situations prevents the pain and fear of social situations. That can mean avoiding going out with friends, going to meetings, public activities, social functions, and meeting new people.
Even after the event or social situation is over, your mind can still be anxious, while it constantly turns over the thoughts, images and memories of what happened. You continuously think about certain aspects of your interaction with others, and you focus on what you think you did wrong. But what you think you did wrong may not be the reality of the event. However, it is real for you.
Characteristics of social anxiety:
- Intense fear of social interactions in a wide variety of contexts
- Anticipatory anxiety that leads social anxiety suffers to avoid opportunities for conversation or public speaking
- Extreme symptoms of anxiety experienced during unwanted or stressful social interactions
- Poor verbal communication skills, complicated by a person’s inability to think clearly while experiencing anxiety
- Overly critical self-evaluations of performance after conversations or spoken presentations are finished
- Low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence, which are reinforced by constant self-criticism
- Physical symptoms of social anxiety:
- Red face or blushing
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach or nausea (butterflies)
- Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice)
- Racing heart or tightness in the chest
- Feeling dizzy or faint
How can I overcome social anxiety?
Social anxiety affects us all to different degrees, but you can overcome it with techniques to help manage the symptoms. It is important to develop new habits and coping skills to ease and overcome social anxiety.
1. Challenge your negative and anxious thoughts
Identify anxious thoughts that pop into your head when you think of social situations, analyze these thoughts, and then challenge them. What evidence do you have that these thoughts are true? What is the worst that can happen if these thoughts are true?
2. Be mindful
Practicing mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing can help you to be present and aware of your thoughts and feelings in a positive way.
3. Exposure Practice
Create an exposure hierarchy and rate social situations on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest anxiety. What feelings come up when you are in that location? Did you anticipate your anxiety would be higher than it actually was? Did you enjoy it more than you thought you would?
4. Adopt a healthier lifestyle to reduce anxiety
The mind and the body are very much connected and how you treat your body has a huge impact on your mind and anxiety levels. Focus on implementing healthy choices to improve self-confidence and mental awareness.
5. Build confidence and self-esteem
Find social situations and engage with those around you. Putting yourself out there to be more social and have different interactions will help you overcome fears.
6. Be kind to yourself
Creating new habits and overcoming social anxiety isn’t easy. Give yourself grace and take a minute to focus on the present and the tools you’re learning.
7. Attempt to face your fears
Expose yourself to social situations and encourage personal growth.
Overcoming social anxiety is a process and it takes time for new pathways and techniques to form. Here’s where motivation and practice come in. The more you can practice these small anti-anxiety methods and techniques, the sooner anxiety can be reduced, and social anxiety can be overcome.