We all experience social phobia and anxiety at some point in our lives. Feeling anxious or nervous about public speaking, a job interview, or meeting new people can trigger feelings of anxiety, even in extroverts. However, when social anxiety becomes crippling, persistent, and feels like more than just shyness, there may be a larger issue. Additionally, many people have reported feeling anxious about returning to their normal lives after years of isolation during the pandemic.
Luckily, treating social anxiety disorder can be done with various therapy modalities, medication, and through many other remedies. Keep reading to find out the best ways to get a handle on managing social anxiety in social situations that cause you discomfort and stress.
What is social anxiety disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that makes social interactions cause irrational anxiety. It involves the intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged.
Severe social anxiety disorder can make it difficult to partake in social activities, including:
- Public speaking
- Job interviews
- Attending school
- Eating or drinking in front of people
- Attending parties or social gatherings
- Shopping for groceries
There are physical signs and symptoms of social anxiety that may appear when people with social anxiety have to be in social settings. These include:
- Blushing, sweating, or trembling
- Increasing rapid heart rate
- Feel nauseous or upset stomach
- Trouble catching your breath
- Dizziness or lightheaded
- Feeling like your mind has gone blank
- Avoiding eye contact with people
Tips to Overcome Social Anxiety
Managing a social anxiety disorder can be done through various psychological and pharmacological interventions. There are also some tricks and practices you can do on your own when you are having anxious thoughts in social situations.
Here are a few of the ways you can deal with social anxiety.
1. Identify your triggers
It’s important to determine what thoughts and actions trigger your social anxiety disorder in order to find the most productive solution to those feelings.
Here’s how you can identify your triggers:
List out the social events that make you the most uncomfortable. This could be attending an in-person class, going to a job interview, or shopping for groceries. Knowing the situations that cause you the most uncomfortable helps to find a path forward.
Once you’ve identified your social triggers, determine the symptoms you feel in those situations. You may experience a racing heart or begin sweating or feel flushed. Whatever your symptoms are, it’s important to have reliable techniques to use so you can regain feelings of calmness and control.
2. Relaxation techniques
Social anxiety may cause you to have physical reactions like shortness of breath, shallow breathing, blushing, sweating, muscle tension, and a trembling voice. Fortunately, there are breathing and muscle relaxation exercises that can alleviate these symptoms and help you maintain control in social settings.
Deep breathing can combat symptoms of social anxiety because it teaches you to subconsciously take deep breaths, even in moments of discomfort. Breathing exercises are effective because they can be practiced regularly by socially anxious individuals and used when anxious feelings arise.
Progressive muscle relaxation techniques teach muscle relaxation in a two-step process. First, you intentionally tense particular muscle groups, like the shoulders or back. Slowly release the tension and take note of how your muscles feel in the process.
Will progressive muscle relaxation reduce symptoms every time? It depends on the individual, but the more you practice, the more effective it will be when you need it most.
3. Challenge negative thoughts
Those who struggle with mental illness often experience negative thoughts that have a harmful effect on their self-confidence.
Many with social anxiety disorder struggle with negative thoughts about how they will mess up in a social situation — like saying the wrong thing, calling someone the wrong name, or laughing loudly at the wrong time.
If you do make a social blunder, it’s likely that nobody will even notice, let alone say anything. It can be helpful to challenge negative thoughts with realistic thinking.
Reflect on previous social events you’ve been at and how people have responded to someone’s faux pas — more likely than not, people just laugh it off and move on. Reminding yourself that everyone gets nervous in social settings can also help reduce your negative thoughts.
4. Start small
Don’t go too far out of your comfort zone right away. Start with small social gatherings with people you know and feel comfortable with. You can practice small talk without feeling socially awkward or out of place.
Small social situations are a great way for those with social anxiety disorders to practice social skills and feel more comfortable around people.
5. Start exercising
There are many types of physical exercise that can calm your body and your mind. Exercise can improve your mood and help you relax, sleep better, and lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Jogging and yoga are the most common types of exercise to alleviate anxiety and relieve stress. Physical activity of any kind, especially aerobic exercise, boosts the production of endorphins in the brain that bring positive feelings and boost your mood.
Physical exercise also reduces the harmful physical symptoms that stress and anxiety can have on the body. Many individuals experience relief from headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, and fatigue through a consistent exercise routine.
6. Shift your focus
If you are working on how to overcome social anxiety, try to pivot your focus off of yourself and what you may be doing wrong and instead focus your attention and energy on other people or conversations.
Try to engage in conversations about topics that you are passionate about. Let’s say you are attending a social gathering at a friend’s house, where you hear two people talking about a new movie they just saw. You enjoyed the movie and want to hear their opinions on a certain scene.
This is a great opportunity for you to practice your social skills; since you are comfortable and confident in the subject, you will be less worried about saying the wrong thing or not having anything to contribute to the conversation. You may find you have other things in common with people and, in turn, have more things to talk about in social settings.
Rather than avoiding social situations out of fear of saying the wrong thing, start by choosing to join conversations that interest you. It’s a great way to build confidence and make connections with others.
7. Make lifestyle changes
Living a healthy lifestyle can alleviate the symptoms of social anxiety and help you to become more comfortable in social settings in your everyday life.
Here are a few ways to improve your lifestyle:
- Avoid alcohol
- Limit caffeine
- Eat a balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Prioritize physical exercise
- Spend time with people you are comfortable with
8. See a therapist
Talk therapy can be extremely beneficial for overcoming social anxiety and many other mental disorders. A mental health professional can assess if there are any other disorders or issues that may be contributing to your anxiety.
The most common therapy modality used in social anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Through CBT, you’ll learn to identify unhealthy thoughts and beliefs you have that contribute to your social anxiety. You’ll gain coping skills, social skills, and learn to confront the fears you associate with everyday social situations.
A mental health specialist can prescribe medication to help regulate anxiety. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common medication used for the treatment of social anxiety disorder because they raise serotonin levels in the brain, which regulates mood and anxiety.
Get the social interaction you need in therapy at Clear Recovery Center Virtual Program.
At Clear Recovery Center, we believe there should be online treatment options for individuals with social anxiety and other mental health issues. If you have social anxiety disorder and struggle to be in specific social situations like group therapy, our virtual program may be the right fit for you.
With Clear Recovery Center’s virtual program, patients still get the positive social interaction that support groups offer without having to put themselves in a situation that makes them feel anxious or uncomfortable. Learn more about our online mental health treatment programs here.