Social anxiety is an intense and persistent fear that you’re being watched and judged by others. When someone lives with social anxiety, daily interactions can cause irrational anxiety and self-consciousness.
Living with social anxiety is crippling. I feel like I’ve always struggled with some level of social anxiety but there were a few years in particular where it was severe. I’ve always been reserved and in elementary school, some of my peers called me mute because I rarely talked.
I recall several memories of being out in public and feeling like all eyes were on me. I just knew every time someone laughed, they were laughing at me. I couldn’t order my own food from restaurants, I couldn’t make phone calls, I struggled to show up for school, and I couldn’t do anything that required me to be around others. It got so bad at one point that I avoided leaving the house. Every time I had to go somewhere, I immediately became sick to my stomach. I was extremely self-conscious and awkward. I lived in fear of how I was perceived by others. Having social anxiety made my life hard.
Before learning about what social anxiety is, I thought I was just shy. We all experience moments where we get nervous in a social situation. It could be during a meeting or a presentation; however, having social anxiety is more than just feeling a little nervous or being shy.
Living with this condition impacts various aspects of a person’s daily life. The fear experienced by those of us living with social anxiety makes us feel like we have no control.
- Fear in situations where you may be judged negatively
- Worrying about embarrassing or humiliating yourself
- Intense fear of interacting or talking with strangers
- Physical symptoms in social situations such as blushing, sweating, trembling, muscle tension, or rapid heart rate
- Feeling nauseous or sick to your stomach
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Intense fear or anxiety in social situations
- Feeling anxious in anticipation of an activity or event
- Analyzing your performance to identify flaws in your social interactions
- Expecting the worst possible outcomes in social situations
- Avoiding places where there are other people
Social anxiety can lead to isolation and even affect your confidence. If you live with social anxiety, there’s hope. Treatment for social anxiety consists of therapy and medication. In therapy, you will learn skills that help you manage your fear around social situations and build your confidence. Aside from seeking professional treatment, there are self-help strategies you can use to cope.
Coping With Social Anxiety
Reduce negative thinking
When living with social anxiety, it’s common to misinterpret what someone else says to you or even their facial expressions. You may feel like you know exactly what they’re thinking about you as though you’re able to read their mind.
One way to reduce negative thinking is by challenging your negative thoughts. The next time you believe someone else’s reaction has something to do with you, ask yourself could there be a different explanation. Pay attention to any negative thoughts you have before social situations and begin challenging them with alternatives.
Envision yourself in a safe place where you’re comfortable and have everything you need. You can do this if you’re in a social situation you feel you need to escape from.
Keep a rational outlook
When you go out and start feeling anxious, think back to other times you were in social situations and you did fine. Use this to reassure yourself everything will be ok. Remember, anticipation is usually worse than reality.
Face your fears
This is going to be easier said than done but sometimes the best way to work through a problem is to face it head-on. If you fear going out, set a goal to go out at least once a week. Avoiding your fears may help short-term but in the long run, it does more damage.
Exposing yourself to certain situations will help you work through your anxiety. Start with small goals and you can eventually work your way up to going out more.
Tell your support system that you’re struggling
You don’t have to go through this alone. Confide in people you trust about living with social anxiety and let them know how they can support you. It may also help to have them by your side when entering a social situation.
One way to reduce anxiety is by focusing on your breath. This can help you release any negative thoughts and also help your body relax.
Deep breathing exercise:
- Inhale through the nose for four seconds. Focus on your breath and the rise of your chest and abdomen. Once you get to four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds then exhale out your mouth for eight seconds, paying attention to your chest and stomach as they fall.
- You can practice this breathing technique multiple times a day or as needed.
When we’re anxious, we tend to tense up. Something that can help is trying a muscle relaxation exercise. You can start by tensing your muscles, one by one, for five seconds then relaxing them.
Affirmations are positive statements you recite that reframe negative thinking. Repeating affirmations daily can help build your confidence as well as put your mind at ease.
A few affirmations you could try include:
- I am safe.
- I am confident in everything I do.
- I am calm.
- I will get through this difficult time.
- I believe in myself.
- I choose positive and nurturing thoughts.
- I will be ok.
- I cultivate calmness.
- I am present in this moment.
It may be tempting to have a few glasses of wine to help you relax but over time this can do more harm than good. A small amount of alcohol can definitely help you be more at ease but you don’t want to become too dependent on substances when it comes to coping with anxiety. Alcohol can also leave you feeling worse so be mindful of how much you consume.
Struggling with social anxiety doesn’t have to keep you from living a fulfilling life. Seeking treatment and finding self-help strategies that work for you make a huge difference. Don’t force yourself to do too much. Take your time, set small goals for going out, and work to achieve them.