Social anxiety

What is social anxiety?

You arrive at a party, dinner or weekend trip with other people and, for some reason, you feel deeply uncomfortable. Suddenly, your mind is telling you: “You’re not funny/smart/cool enough” or simply “What are you doing here? You don’t belong!” 

For some people, every social situation feels uncomfortable – even just receiving an invitation to a baby shower can trigger feelings of dread and fear.

For others, social anxiety may be something that creeps up unexpectedly once in a while at an event, seemingly with no reason. Of course, there is always a reason why feelings come up, and in this case they are usually triggered by an underlying belief of not being “good enough”.

Regardless, dreading social situations puts a lot of undue stress on us in a world where most of the time it feels like our worth is measured by the number of social engagements in our calendars. It is physically and emotionally draining, and might look something like this:

Emotionally

Emotionally

You may have one or more of these thoughts:

  • I have nothing to say/ I’m boring
  • Everyone is staring at me
  • I look/sound stupid
  • I’m out of place

Behaviourally

Behaviourally

You might do one or more of the following

  • Avoid social situations
  • Stay in the background or hide
  • Stay quiet
  • Always bring a friend to stick with

Physically

Physically

You may have one or more of the following

  • Blushing
  • Butterflies in your tummy/tummy ache
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing

What can you do about it?

There are a number of techniques that you can use to make social situations less painful and, who knows, maybe even start to enjoy them! Like anything else, these take practice (yes, sorry!) so don’t be put off if your metamorphosis from caterpillar to social butterfly doesn’t happen overnight!

Ground yourself

Do this when you are feeling anxious before an event

  • Sit comfortably with your feet firmly planted on the floor
  • Push your feet against the floor as hard as possible and notice the physical feeling of this
  • Touch something – a pet, a set of keys, a phone, whatever! – and notice the feeling of the object against your fingertips
  • This really helps to distract you from your negative thoughts and focus on the present – try to do this as often as possible

Understand how social anxiety works

Do this when you are feeling anxious

Just because you believe something, it doesn’t mean it’s true. It often feels like everyone sees us the way that we perceive ourselves. In reality however, your internal dialogue is creating a negative picture of yourself that only you can see – others probably see you completely differently.

Understanding that your mind is creating this distorted picture and sending you into a “worry spiral” is key to putting things into perspective.

Dig a little deeper

Do this when you are feeling anxious

You are more likely to feel anxious in social situations if you are not feeling good about yourself, so ask the question: How am I feeling? Do you feel like you’re not good enough? Are you having a tough time at work or in your personal life and feel like you want to be alone?

Really ask yourself if there is something in your life that is making you unhappy or unsatisfied. The moment you understand what the issue is, you can start doing something about it.

Tell a friend

Do this when you are feeling anxious

  • Sharing your worries with someone who cares about you has been demonstrated to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Not only that, but you’d be surprised at how many people have social anxiety. By telling people how you feel, you might learn that others feel the same, which will demonstrate that it’s a feeling fuelled by you rather than a reality.

Speak to a therapist

Do this if you are having trouble dealing with your feelings

  • If you are imagining lying on a couch while speaking to a silent bearded man who nods and says “hmm.. interesting”, think again!
  • Most professionals nowadays have a significantly more interactive approach to therapy (be it face-to-face or by skype). Therapy can really help to efficiently deal with feelings that are unpleasant and puts you in charge of your emotions so that you don’t surrender to them.
  • Watch this space to speak to great psychologists via Skype starting soon!

Breathe

Do this every morning if you can

“Oh no, not this breathing thing again” you might be thinking, but this works. Sit and observe your breathing for 5-10 minutes when you wake up – you don’t have to do anything to change it, just observe it.

This helps to take your attention away from your thoughts and into the present moment. The more you do this, the less you will get carried away with negative thoughts which aggravate your social anxiety.

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