Social anxiety is tough. It can hold us back from enjoying our lives to the fullest, missing out on important life events or relationships. Thankfully, we have some tips for managing our fears.
Make sure to read until the end to learn our favorite tricks! We love number 5, it really helped us learn to manage our anxious thoughts. Be sure to let us know your favorite after reading this.
1. Practice breathing exercises.
Social anxiety affects more than just the brain, it impacts the body physically, too. For those with this disorder, social situations activate the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our “fight or flight” response in dangerous or threatening situations. If someone perceives a social event as threatening, their sympathetic nervous system may produce physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, muscle tension or twitches, trembling, and shortness of breath.
This only exacerbates the problem. As the physical symptoms begin, someone with social anxiety may fear that the whole room is judging their nervous appearance, which will worsen them.
To avoid this turning into an endless loop of anxiety, try doing a breathing exercise either somewhere private, like a bathroom, or discreetly while in public.
Here’s a simple breathing exercise you can try either before or during a stressful social event.
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit. Straighten your back and rest one hand at the top of your chest and the other on your stomach. If you are doing this in public, don’t worry about where to put your hands, but focus your mind on the counting in the next step.
- Deeply inhale through your nose while slowly counting to 4.
- Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale your breath for 6 seconds.
- Repeat until you can feel your anxiety reduce while following the same breathing pattern of 4-2-6.
2. Live an anxiety-free lifestyle.
One of the best ways to reduce social anxiety is by making small lifestyle changes to reduce your overall anxiety. It’ll go a long way in reducing your stress when you need to be around others.
Here are some easy things you can do to de-stress your lifestyle:
- Get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day. It doesn’t need to be vigorous. Half an hour of walking leisurely will burn off stress and release natural endorphins that increase mood and reduce stress.
- Cut out caffeine. We know, we know. A life without caffeine is tragic. But caffeine acts as a stimulant, making anxiety worse.
- Avoid overconsumption of alcohol and quit smoking as both increase anxiety.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness has been known to be extremely effective in treating anxiety disorders.
What is mindfulness? It’s the mental state of being aware of each passing moment. It is achieved by acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, emotions, sensations, and environment. Being present in the moment, rather than overthinking the past or future, has a very positive effect on anxiety.
If you’re ever feeling yourself slipping out of the present moment, try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method to help bring you back. Acknowledge the following things around, either verbally or inside your head, in this order.
- 5 things you can see.
- 4 things you can touch.
- 3 things you can hear.
- 2 things you can smell.
- 1 thing you can taste.
Whether you actively stimulate your senses by touching or tasting an object or you only mentally acknowledge them, this technique has been known to help you become more present and mindful of the current moment.
4. Recognize and challenge unproductive negative thoughts.
If you have social anxiety, you likely engage in harsh and unhelpful thinking. These unproductive thoughts are called cognitive distortions.
A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that often triggers or is a result of anxiety. There are ten known types of cognitive distortions that have the potential to harm a person’s mental well-being. The good news is, simply identifying a specific thought as distorted helps to reduce its impacts.
Here are some examples of cognitive distortions:
- Labeling– labeling yourself or others, you’re making an overgeneralization about them. If you tell yourself, “Everyone in my class is a jerk. They’ll be rude to me”, you are making a generalization about an entire group. Yes, there might be jerks, but there will be kind people as well. These distortions can be internalized as well by thinking something like, “I’m so boring. No one will talk to me anyway.”
Instead of making overgeneralizations, challenge yourself. Tell yourself, “There are so many different aspects to my personality, I’m bound to find something to talk about with people.” Or, “There’s no way everyone in my class will be a jerk. There are good and bad people in every group.”
- Emotional Reasoning. Emotional reasoning is when you believe that what you are feeling or thinking must be true.
For example, if you are feeling anxious about going to a public environment, you will convince yourself that your anxiety is rational and warranted. A thought you may have is, “I’m anxious about going to the staff party because I know I’ll make a fool of myself.”
It’s good to remind yourself of a common mantra used by those who experience anxiety. “Thoughts aren’t facts.” No matter how confident your thoughts are or how scared you may feel, you are not a fortune-teller. Don’t let your cognitive distortions guide your life.
- The last distortion we will go over is Catastrophizing. People with social anxiety might imagine the worst possible situation then convince themselves it will happen.
An example of catastrophizing thoughts would be telling yourself, “I’m going to mess up on my presentation and get fired because I’m so stupid.” Just like you probably do, most people understand that we are all human and we make mistakes. Worst-case scenarios rarely happen and there is no point in convincing yourself that they will.
5. Work on improving your emotional intelligence.
If you experience social anxiety, a great way to combat it is by gaining confidence in your social skills. Emotional intelligence is important in socializing. It helps us read social cues, facial expressions, and manage our own emotions.
There are 4 areas of emotional intelligence you can work to improve: Self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management.
Self-management involves your own management of your emotions and stress. Self-management helps you to not lose control when in a stressful event. Many techniques already mentioned, like reducing caffeine or practicing mindfulness, are all great at helping you manage your emotions.
Self-Awareness is also another area improved by mindfulness. It involves being aware of your physical sensations, emotions, and behaviors. Focus on being self-aware of how you may be presenting yourself to others. Rather than telling yourself that you are acting strange, focus on how you are actually behaving. Chances are, your anxiety symptoms are far less noticeable than you believe they are.
Social Awareness. It’s a good idea to work on your social awareness if you suffer from social anxiety. People with anxiety get stuck in their own heads and end up believing everyone in a room is judging them. However, being more socially aware will help you realize that most people are in their own bubble, unfazed by your nervousness. Plus, if you’re stuck in your own thoughts, you might miss out on important social cues that will further your bond.
Relationship Management. Our ability in maintaining relationships is important for building our self-esteem. There are many ways you can grow your skills in relationship management. Like reading social cues, using humor appropriately to relieve tension, and being aware of how your own body language may influence relationships.
Working to improve your emotional intelligence is a great way to reduce social anxiety and improve your relationships.
6. Talk to your primary doctor.
If you have social anxiety, it’s essential to talk to your primary doctor. To rule out any underlying health issues causing the anxiety. Your doctor may also prescribe you medications to help manage your anxiety. Even with mental health complaints, it’s important to always talk to your doctor about them.
7. Face your fears.
Yes, we know. It’s easier said than done. However, facing your fears is an extremely effective way in reducing anxiety.
The psychological term for this would be “exposure therapy”. Of course, the severity of your symptoms should dictate whether you try this on your own or with professional support. But if you feel your social anxiety is mild to moderate, it might be worth it to rip off the band-aid and face your fears.
Being anxious requires a lot of fuel from your body. If you expose yourself to a stressful situation long enough, eventually your body burns out of anxiety and you’ll begin to normalize the environment.
The best way to do this is to ease into it. Begin with waving or saying hello to a coworker. Next, eat lunch in the staff room instead of alone in your cubicle. Eventually, work your way up to inviting them over for tea or attend a staff gathering. Once you realize your fears aren’t as threatening as you once assumed, socializing will become easier!
We hope these tricks help you reduce your social anxiety! Which was your favorite? Let us know below in the comments.