You are at a party where you don’t know the other guests very well. You are hiding in a dark corner of the room, your heart pounding and your stomach churning at the thought that someone might come and talk to you. Even the few drinks you had before arriving are not helping you to feel brave enough to face everyone…
You can’t stop staring at the phone, the elephant in the room. You need to make a call, but the very thought of talking to a stranger makes you blush and your whole body tenses…
There is a small group meeting in your workplace, and suddenly the attention is directed towards you to respond to a point being made. You feel paralysed, and your hands shake with fear and anxiety at being the focus of attention. You freeze and can’t say anything at all, only making the situation more awkward…
You are stuck at home on your own, even though today should be the first day of your new job. You are overcome with dread at the thought of meeting new people and you know you will only make a fool of yourself if you go in. You wish your close friend could come with you instead of going in alone, but you know that is impossible…
If you have experienced situations similar to these, it is possible you are suffering from social anxiety. This unreasonable and irrational fear of social situations, causing extreme nervousness over the fear of making a mistake, looking bad, being criticised or being judged can be very serious.
Not only is there a risk of becoming socially outcast, there is also a chance you could lose your job or you may find it a struggle to conduct regular activities needed to survive. When left unchecked, this could lead to panic attacks that can be debilitating.
Whilst there are varying degrees of seriousness with social anxiety disorder, there are ways of managing the distress so that you can calm yourself in a social situation that causes the anxiety.
Sometimes, social anxiety is linked to a lack of self-esteem. Working with a therapist to improve your self-confidence and your social skills can be very helpful. However there are other things that you can try on your own that might also help you to better manage the social anxiety in your life.
Breathe Through It
A technique you may learn as part of your therapy, which you can start to practice yourself, is deep breathing. This will assist you in relaxing when you find yourself in a stressful social situation. When suffering from social anxiety it is common to either over-breathe or to hold your breath, this causes an imbalance in the way oxygen and carbon dioxide flow through our body and can cause physical symptoms that can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
Learning how to control your breath by regulating your breathing can help to reduce the overall feelings of anxiety. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is one that can be very powerful yet is simple to do at anytime. For this technique, take in a breath for the count of 4, hold your breath for 7, and then release your breath for 8 counts. Do a cycle of four breaths in this way and you will notice your heart rate drop as your breathing stabilises.
The beauty of this technique is that you can do it at any time and nobody will even notice, plus it only takes a minute to do, so you can start to feel better almost instantly.
Change Your Thoughts
Another technique you can start doing on your own, is to pay attention to your thought patterns. It is likely you have automatic negative thoughts around social situations. You might be really worried about making a speech at an event and you keep telling yourself that you will make a mistake and everyone will laugh at you, for example.
When you notice this kind of thinking, analyse and challenge the thought. You might ask yourself: How do I know I will make a mistake? Is it true that everyone will laugh at me even if it doesn’t go smoothly?
Changing the way you think about the situation can help to alleviate the anxiety around it and will help you to start thinking in a more positive way.
Face Your Fears
Whilst this might seem difficult, it is recommended that you face your fears in social situations as a way to overcome your social anxiety. Start by gradually putting yourself into situations that you find difficult, beginning with one that you are sure you can handle, and then slowly work your way up into more difficult situations as your confidence improves.
Be patient with yourself and use the help of a friend who you trust if that helps to get you out. Try to stay calm, and use the previous techniques of counting your breath and challenging your negative thoughts about the situations as they arise.
Facing your fears in this way is better than complete avoidance which keeps you stuck in place rather than moving forward in better managing the social aspects of your life.
There are also some lifestyle changes you can make which might support your treatment of social anxiety. The main one is to avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea and energy drinks, as these can increase anxiety levels. Also avoid drinking alcohol or taking other drugs as a way to manage the situation, as this not only masks the problem, but can lead to a higher risk of having a panic attack. It is also important to get enough sleep. When you are tired it can cause you to feel more anxious and it is difficult to stay calm and focused when you are not properly rested.
If you are not sure whether you are suffering from social anxiety or another form of panic disorder, then speak with your Spectrum Therapy therapist who can conduct some tests to find out whether what you are experiencing is social anxiety or another type of related disorder.
If you have tried these self-help techniques and are still struggling in social situations, then it is also important to speak to us so you can get the best advice about the next steps you can take.