SOCIAL ANXIETY: STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU OVERCOME FEARS
People with social anxiety tend to fear and avoid social situations. They worry that they will do something embarrassing, or that others will judge them. Social anxiety involves fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social settings.
It is normal to feel anxious in social situations from time to time. For example, most people feel anxious when they have to speak in front of a large group. Social anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes quite distressing and starts getting in the way of your ability to function and enjoy life.
If you have social anxiety you may fear:
talking to work colleagues
going to parties
speaking in a meeting
participating in family get-togethers
spilling food while eating in public
being watched at work
speaking to authority figures
going on a date
Some people with social anxiety fear any social or group situation where they can be watched or evaluated.
There are strategies you can use to help manage your fears in social situations.
1. LEARN ABOUT SOCIAL ANXIETY
It would be helpful for you to have a better understanding of what social anxiety is.
If you have social anxiety you are likely to worry that that you will say or do something that will lead other people to judge you as being anxious, weak, stupid or “crazy”. Your level of concern is generally out of proportion with the situation.
If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation you may experience physical symptoms such as
Some people with social phobia experience panic attacks.
2. PRACTICE CALM BREATHING DAILY
An example is the following exercise.
Place one hand on your abdomen right under your ribcage.
Breathing from your abdomen inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the “bottom” of your lungs.Count slowly to five as you inhale. Your hand should rise.
When you have taken a full breath pause and count to five.
Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth as you count to five. Exhale fully. As you exhale allow your whole body to let go all of your tension. Perhaps say to yourself “Let go”.
Take two breaths in your normal rhythm and then repeat the steps above.
Through using CBT techniques with the help of a counsellor you can learn how to think less negatively and more realistically.
Examples of negative thoughts:
“I might say something stupid”. I will blush and other people will notice.
“I might lose my train of thought and stop mid-sentence. Other people will notice that I am anxious.”
“No-one will talk to me. People will think that I am boring. I won’t know what to say. No-one will like me.
People with social anxiety often hold some unrealistic beliefs. Common examples include:
I need to be perfect to be liked
I should never make mistakes
It is important for everyone to like me
It’s not okay to be anxious
However, no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Not everyone will like you; that’s normal.
A counsellor can help you evaluate your negative thinking.You may come to realize that some of the things you fear are very unlikely to actually happen, or that if something does happen it’s not as bad as
you may think and that you can cope.
5. EXPOSURE THERAPY
With the help of a counsellor you can make a list of the situations that cause you anxiety, in order of severity. You then perform the “easiest” behaviour i.e expose yourself to the anxiety-provoking situation. Gradually you move up the list. SEE my POST BELOW.
Feeling anxious occasionally is a normal part of being human. You may feel anxious before taking an exam, when faced with a difficult work problem, while waiting for the results of medical investigations or when going through the process of making an important decision. However, if you have an anxiety disorder the worry or fear is not temporary; for you the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. Anxiety can interfere with your daily activities. There are a number of types of anxiety e.g. generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Read more:
Learning about anxiety is a very important first step since it helps you to understand what is happening when you are feeling uncomfortable. All the worries and physical feelings you are experiencing are due to anxiety.
Anxiety is normal and adaptive because it helps us prepare for danger (for instance, our heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles so we have the energy to run away or fight off danger).
Therefore, the goal is to learn to manage anxiety, not eliminate it.
Living with anxiety can become a problem when our body tells us that there is danger when there is no real danger.
Our body’s fight-flight-freeze response can be activated when there is a real danger, such as coming across a black bear when hiking in the woods. You may take FLIGHT and run away from the bear. You may FREEZE and stay still until the bear passes. Or, you might FIGHT and yell and wave your arms to appear big and scary.
But these response can also happen when something simply feels dangerous, but really isn’t, such as being interviewed for a job. Anxious feelings can become so overwhelming that you want to avoid doing the interview. Many people stop doing things or going to places that make them feel anxious.
Watch the following youtube video produced by the organization beyondblue with Australian actor Noah Taylor.
2. Reduce stress in your day-to-day living.
If you are living with anxiety it is essential that you find ways to reduce your levels of day-to-day stress. This might include:
time management with your work or study
spending some time with nature e.g taking a walk on a bush track
listening to music that you find relaxing
spending some time on one of your hobbies e.g painting, playing a musical instrument
learning some relaxation techniques
3. Give high priority to adequate sleep.
aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night
avoid foods and drinks containing caffeine during the evening
avoid eating close to bedtime
ensure that your bedroom is dark and quiet
establish a relaxing night routine
avoid watching TV or working on your computer before bedtime
4. Exercise regularly and take opportunities to engage in physical activity.
Nature has a calming effect on the mind
Exercise can reduce anxiety and improve mood. It can reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The best physical activities are those that you enjoy doing and will continue doing.
5. Learn and practise relaxation skills such as the following:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) can be helpful in reducing muscle tension and for achieving a state of relaxation. The technique involves systematically tensing up various muscles then releasing them releasing the tension suddenly. See
If you practise mindfulness on a regular basis you can, with time, reduce your anxiety levels.
7. Take time out to do things you enjoy e.g listening to music, walking your dog or catching up with a friend. Enjoy a good laugh; it reduces stress levels.
catching up with friends
attending a class for fun
walking your dog
enjoy a good laugh
8. Learn some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills so that you can challenge your negative thinking.
If you live with anxiety you probably do a lot of negative thinking. CBT is not the be all and end all, but if learnt along with other skills it can be very helpful if you are a worrier, someone who tends to catastrophize.
CBT was pioneered by Aaron T. Beck. The aims are to modify your inaccurate or unhelpful negative ways of thinking and behaving and also to challenge your belief system (i.e. beliefs about yourself and your personal world). The outcomes are emotional and behavioural changes.To learn more see
ANXIETY MANAGEMENT: VISUALIZATION AS A RELAXATION TECHNIQUE
The kind of relaxation that makes a significant difference in anxiety management is the regular, daily practice of some form of deep relaxation.
If you are in a state of deep relaxation then your body’s physiological state is the opposite of what it is when you are stressed, very anxious or having a panic attack. For example, in deep relaxation your heart rate decreases, there is a decrease in skeletal muscle tension and your breathing deepens.
Regular practice of deep relaxation for 20-30 minutes each day can lead to you feeling more relaxed, more of the time. Regularity and persistence are important. Deep relaxation can reduce generalized anxiety and the severity of panic attacks.
One technique that can be included in an anxiety management plan is visualizing yourself in a peaceful scene. The example used here is a seaside beach scene. Visualization is best done after a muscular relaxation session e.g “progressive muscular relaxation” or “passive muscular relaxation”.
Here is an example of being immersed in a peaceful scene:
You are walking alone along a beautiful beach. There is no-one else in sight. Ahead of you there is a long stretch of white sand and the sea is a beautiful turquoise. You are walking barefoot near the water’s edge and can feel the hard sand under your feet. You hear the sounds of seagulls and the sound of the waves as they break. The sun feels warm on your skin as you breathe in the fresh salty air. You walk to the water’s edge and feel the temperature of the water with your fingers; it feels icy cold. A wave washes over your feet and the you feel the cold water splash onto your legs. Out to sea there is a white-sailed yacht and you watch it for a moment. You walk away from the water and onto soft sand. As you sit, the sand feels warm. You pick up some sand and let it run between your fingers. You lay down on the sand and close your eyes. With the sound of the waves breaking, the ebb and flow lulls you into a very calm state.
You can design your own visualization. Notice that the language used involves reference to the senses: sight, hearing, touch and smell. You do not have to stay with what is realistic; your special place may be complete fantasy!
“Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself”
"The Human heart yearns for contact - above all it yearns for genuine dialogue. Each of us secretly and desperately yearns to be "met" - to be recognised in our uniquness, our fullness and our vulnerability".
Hycner & Jacobs