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How to overcome social anxiety
If you feel out of practice socializing after the last few years of social distancing, you’re not alone. If you feel more anxious than usual when leaving the house to socialize, that’s also totally normal, as is occasionally feeling overwhelmed or out of your element in large crowds.
However, when these nervous feelings persist — and cause you great anguish — you might have a social anxiety disorder.
Get Yourself Out There
Improve Your Health
Become Your Own Best Advocate
Start Saying Yes
Ask for Help
Buy Yourself a New Outfit
Start Saying No
Keep a Journal
Cherish Being Alone
Stop Trying to Be Perfect
- Practice public speaking
- For those who have mild-to-moderate social anxiety disorder — for example, maybe it’s not causing you panic attacks — finding ways to practice public speaking is a good approach.
- Try cognitive behavioral therapy
- Among the different kinds of psychotherapy available, cognitive behavioral therapy — which involves making changes to the way you think and feel about a situation, which, in turn, can help you modify your behavior — is a helpful way to approach social anxiety. “With social anxiety specifically, you want to identify patterns of thinking that cause you to avoid social situations — like if a person’s always expecting the worst outcome, or a person is fixated on the fact that someone might see them blushing, or sweating or stammering,” says Dr. Potter. “You want to help them learn to challenge those expectations and adopt more positive self-talk rather than negative self-talk.”
Gradually introduce yourself to anxiety-inducing situations
Dr. Potter recommends what she calls “situational exposure.” Identify certain social situations you’re afraid of, and work your way up from easier to more difficult scenarios while practicing relaxation techniques so you
can tolerate anxiety. “For example, if you have a fear of large groups, and you’ve been mostly avoiding group activities, start by going out with a friend one on one,” she explains. “Then work your way up to going out with a small group of friends.” Repeat as needed until you feel more comfortable before attempting to go to a
restaurant, a bar or a party where there would be more people. You can also work on situational exposure with the support of a therapist, Dr. Potter says. “Like cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy is a type of treatment a trained psychologist can provide.”
Ask your support system for a helping hand
If you’re a friend or family member of somebody anxious in social situations, one way to offer support is to bring them into the conversation. “You might be like, ‘Oh, I think Sara has something she would probably like to say on that subject. She’s really interested in that,’” Dr. Potter says. “You can support them by bringing them out of their shells.” Before doing that, however, be sure to ask the person if that’s OK. “If you’re a person with social anxiety, you may not like being put on the spot to say something. Talk to that person in advance about how they want to handle certain things.”
Check in with yourself
This is easier said than done, of course, so she suggests using a technique called “five senses” that can help you regain perspective and stay in the moment. “Do a check-in with yourself of all of your five senses to get yourself more externally focused. Distract yourself from unpleasant internal sensations and negative thoughts,” says Dr. Potter. “Then you can try to refocus on: ‘What are they actually saying to me? What else is going on right now? What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel?’”
Look for silver linings — and be kind to yourself
Dr. Potter adds that other people are generally way more focused on themselves than they are on others. “They are most likely not scrutinizing your behavior in social situations, because they are busy thinking about what they are going to say or do next,” she says. “Your anxiety usually magnifies the negative and minimizes the positive — so the things you’re acutely aware of about yourself may not be particularly noticeable to others.”
When to worry about physical symptoms of anxiety
Determining whether these symptoms are from anxiety, or a more serious medical condition can be difficult. “If the pain goes away quickly after the anxiety-provoking situation has stopped, and if you have a subjective sense of knowing that you are currently afraid of something, then it’s more likely what you are feeling is probably anxiety,” says Dr. Potter. “But if you’re in doubt, you should definitely talk to a doctor about it and get advice on specific signs to look out for and what your risk factors are.”