It’s not unusual to feel shy and awkward when meeting new people or speaking to a group. For those with social anxiety disorder, however, these feelings are amplified. You may freeze up, experience a racing heart or spend all night agonizing over your interactions.
Recent events forced people to spend months with limited socialization, which has made anxiety worse for many. Thankfully, there are social anxiety coping skills that can help you overcome your fears and approach interactions with confidence.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety isn’t just shyness or introversion; social anxiety disorder causes fear, distress and avoidance that interferes with your life. It can impact school, work, personal relationships and other activities. People with the disorder have physical, emotional and behavioral reactions to being in social situations. These can include blushing, nausea and a rapid heart rate. Behavioral and psychological symptoms can also include:
- Intense worrying about social situations
- Stress for days or weeks after events
- Constant fear of being judged or humiliated
- Avoiding social situations
Individuals with social anxiety often avoid everyday activities such as shopping, using public restrooms or talking on the phone. For many people, the disorder is general, affecting all social situations. Others have selective social anxiety that only occurs in certain situations, such as when talking to strangers or eating in front of people.
Scientists aren’t sure of the cause of social anxiety disorder, but most believe it’s a combination of nature and nurture. People with an overactive amygdala or a serotonin imbalance can get anxious more easily than others. Negative experiences, such as bullying, sexual and emotional abuse or family conflict, can also make you more likely to develop social anxiety disorder.
To diagnose social anxiety disorder, a medical professional will listen to a description of your symptoms, examine behavioral patterns and compare them to a list of criteria to determine if you have the condition. Disruption of your daily life is one of the key criteria.
Why Address Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety can cause major issues in your life. People with mild social anxiety can experience loneliness, frustration and missed opportunities. Those with severe anxiety may have few friends, drop out of school or be unable to work.
Left untreated, social anxiety disorder can lead to high-risk behaviors, including alcohol and drug abuse and thoughts of suicide. Studies have also found that social isolation can lead to an increased risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and dementia.
Social Anxiety Coping Skills
Thankfully, the outlook for overcoming social anxiety disorder is good. Whether you’re extremely shy, have selective social anxiety disorder or are severely socially phobic, there are steps you can take to increase your social anxiety coping skills.
Look After Your Health
The well-being of your mind and body are linked, so supporting your physical health can be a key factor in how to manage social anxiety. Certain lifestyle changes can help you reduce your anxiety levels, which in turn can support other treatments.
Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can increase your level of anxiety, so they should be avoided. If you can’t cut out coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks completely, limit your intake. It’s best to quit smoking altogether, including using vaping products that contain nicotine, to promote better health overall as well as decreasing anxiety.
Getting plenty of quality sleep and exercising regularly can also help you stay calm in social situations. Lastly, limit your alcohol intake. It can be tempting for people with social anxiety disorder to drink before social situations, but doing so actually increases your chance of an attack.
Nurture Positive Thoughts
Social anxiety generally comes with a fear of embarrassment or being judged by the people you’re socializing with. Negative thoughts, such as “I’ll look stupid” or “I’m so boring,” contribute to those fears. Recognizing those thoughts and changing them can help you feel better in social situations.
Try renaming your emotions. When your heart starts racing, tell yourself it’s because you’re excited, not because you’re scared. This technique is called reappraisal, and a number of studies have found it can help you tackle situations that cause anxiety.
It can be helpful to remember that most people pay more attention to their own lives than the lives of other people, so they’re unlikely to remember your mistake. Asking yourself how realistic your fears are and what’s the worst that could happen can help you keep your perspective about what happens when you’re socializing.
Use Relaxation and Breathing Techniques
When you notice your anxiety level is climbing, use calming techniques. Your breathing speeds up when you’re anxious, so focusing on taking slow, deep breaths that can tell your brain there’s nothing to fear. Mindfulness techniques, such as bringing attention to your senses by noticing what you see, feel, hear, taste and touch, can also help lower anxiety. Learning to practice meditation can give you methods of breathing and relaxation to utilize in social situations.
Practice Communication Techniques
Practicing social situations can increase your confidence. Start small by role-playing different situations with people you trust and going to small gatherings. It can be good to focus on your nonverbal communication skills by practicing a relaxed posture and making eye contact. This encourages people to respond positively to you, which helps you have a positive social experience. Support groups for people with social anxiety disorder can be a good place to practice communication with those who understand how you feel.
Perform Acts of Kindness
A 2015 study found that performing small acts of kindness reduced the desire to avoid social situations. Doing nice things for others increases happiness and general positivity overall, which lowers anxiety. But there are more concrete reasons this works. When you’ve done something thoughtful for a person, they’re more likely to have positive feelings for you. This can make you more confident around them, and experiencing this approval regularly can help decrease your fears in all social situations.
Do You Need More Help?
For most people, learning how to get rid of social anxiety takes time and the use of a variety of methods. Although there are no recent statistics, a 2007 study found that 36% of people wait 10 years or more before seeking help. Addressing the problem early can make the disorder easier to treat and reduce the risk of developing other health conditions.
If your social anxiety disorder is unmanageable, reach out to us at FHE Health for professional help. Contact one of our compassionate team of counselors today at (833) 596-3502. We’re available 24/7 to help you begin your journey toward social confidence.