Social Anxiety is a common issue people face, and it’s even classified separately in the DSM now. Although the symptoms that happen when someone is socially anxious can mimic symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder or a Panic Disorder, the reasons for them happening are very different and the way they affect your life can manifest in many different ways.
For example, people who are socially anxious are often fearful of parties/crowds, speaking in public, talking to authority figures, talking on the phone, using the bathroom in public, being put on the spot/center of attention, introductions/meeting new people in general, and more. So this means that they’re likely to avoid lots of situations that can be beneficial to them such as meet and greets, parties, work functions, work interviews, specific classes in school, making eye contact, talking to anyone, or just leaving the house in general.
This obviously has the potential to disrupt your lifestyle and potential outcomes of goals and happiness and stress.
First off, let me say that I know many people with Social Anxiety, and it’s a very real thing and nothing to be ashamed of. There is more and more information about it these days, and more people are becoming aware/less ignorant of the situation, instead of just talking shit about someone who doesn’t want to go to a party or interact in a specific way that they might be used to interacting. It’s okay to do what is comfortable to you.
That said, most people that I know with Social Anxiety are also interested in managing their symptoms, at least a little, because it can be overwhelming. And most people with Social Anxiety aren’t by nature introverts to the point of not wanting to be social at all! They want friends, connections, and conversations, they just don’t know how to get it rolling because their body goes into fight or flight mode and can end up shutting down due to no fault of their own.
So if you’re interested in managing your Social Anxiety, I’ve come up with some ideas of how you can do that. Every situation is different, depending on how many people are involved, where you are, and what your current mindset is. It’s all relative, but having some ideas, options, and tools in your back pocket that you can try out can put your mind at ease and be helpful if they turn out to resonate with you in particular.
10 Ways To Manage Social Anxiety
1. Improve/become more aware of your nonverbal communication. You might not be aware of how your body is coming off to people. Making eye contact might be something you need to work up to, but what if you focus on having confident, upright posture, not crossing your arms, and looking around the room. Crossing your arms and slouching definitely indicates that you’re not interested in connecting. Also be aware of your location in an environment. Are you standing in a dark corner? What if you moved to a couch or into a more trafficked area like the kitchen at a small get together?
2. Come up with a bunch of ice breaker questions that don’t feel cheesy to you. Think of interesting things that you’d actually like to know about someone, or you think would help you get to know someone. It can be simple or complex. It’s not weird to keep them in a notepad on your phone to reference as a refresher before you interact with someone either. These ice breakers can also be used throughout a conversation if there is a lull, so you can keep it going with ease.
3. Figure out what situation you’d really like to be able to handle but currently makes you socially anxious, and work up to it in small exposure steps. For example, in exposure therapy, if you were scared of a spider, first you would talk about a spider, then you would look at a picture of a spider, then you would be in the same room as a spider, then you would hold a spider, then you would get a spider as a pet. So what’s your version of this? Are you terrified to eat alone, but that’s something you really want to be able to do? Okay, so first pick out the restaurant you want to eat at alone (research cool places with environments that are specifically welcoming to individuals), next go eat there with a friend, then order a to go meal from there and pick it up by yourself, then go in at their least busy time and order one drink, then go in at a busier time and order a drink and an appetizer, then go at dinner time and eat a full meal, then go at the same time and order your drink and food, but stay with a book or your laptop. See how it increases in levels and anxiety? The more you sit with your anxiety, the more you realizes it’s tolerable and nothing catastrophic as actually going to happen!
4. Be open about your Social Anxiety with the people closest to you and even people in new social situations. That can be your ice breaker! Say it with a smile. It’s not a bad thing. It can help ease you in. Who knows? Maybe they are, too! Telling people that you’re Socially Anxious will help them help you. And bonus points, if you have ideas for how they can help you in social situations to make you more calm, tell them! Teach them how to help you.
5. Take breaks from the social situation at hand to practice grounding, relaxation, and mindfulness techniques. You’re allowed to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, go outside, or go to your car. You can let out some tears, do deep breathing, concentrate on what you are experiencing with your five senses, do a five minute meditation on YouTube, whatever you need to do. Sometimes just taking a break can refresh you enough to get things reset again.
6. Write down all your fears related to your Social Anxiety. I’m talking about the worries you have about these catastrophes that probably won’t actually ever occur, but your brain is telling you will happen. Are you worried people will think you’re awkward? Ugly? Shy? Unintelligent? Incompetent? Are you worried you won’t be invited back? Are you worried you’ll knock something over? Are you worried you’ll embarrass your friend? Are you worried someone will laugh at you, make fun of you, or tease you? Are you worried you’ll make a mistake, spill something on yourself, or do something silly? What are you so scared of? Write them all down on one side of a piece of paper and on the other side, for every fear, counter it with a statement of logic. For example, “I’m worried I’m going to embarrass my friend” would be countered with something like, “My friend loves and appreciates me. They understand my Social Anxiety, and even if I make a mistake, they will forgive me and love me no matter what”.
7. Reframe your perspective. Your anxiety is not the reality, so try coming up with some positive affirmations and mantras that you can think/say to yourself in the moment or before you leave for a social situation to boost yourself up and remind yourself that anxiety is irrational and not your reality. It’s your brain trying to fool you! You are smart, capable, and strong. Your anxiety does not control you!
8. Prepare for a specific social situation. You don’t want to ever feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants if you’re struggling with Social Anxiety, so if you know you’re going to experience a conflict, going to a specific party, or generally going to something that has the opportunity for you to prepare for it, do it! Write down questions that you want to make sure you ask your teacher, make sure you’re early, avoid caffeine/sugar/alcohol/drugs, have a list of ice breakers/keep up on current events for conversation topics, tell people what your needs are in advance, wear your lucky shirt or necklace, etc.
9. Try meeting new people in an environment that feels the least aggressive to you. There are all sorts of ways to meet people, and they don’t have to be at raves! There are so many options! Group therapy, hiking groups, classes on everything from a second language to beginners drawing, join a gym, group sports, burns like Burning Man, happy hours, speed dating, online dating (so you can set up expectations beforehand), volunteering, etc.
10. Keep your bravery muscle active, and reward every act of bravery you do with something! You can even keep a log of brave acts you’re doing to conquer your Social Anxiety in your journal and rank your anxiety level from a 1 to a 10, write down the date, and any other details.
Really remember that your anxiety is natural and no matter why it’s a part of you, it’s still a part of you, but it doesn’t control you! You have the opportunity to run your life and make decisions in spite of your anxiety, but you can also work with your anxiety. Love your whole self, and that means loving the parts of you that experience anxiety!
Wanting to manage your anxiety even further? I have an amazing e-course called Relieve Anxiety, where I go over the foundation of where anxiety comes from and then go over 18 research-proven ways to reduce anxiety! There are worksheets, resources, meditations, playlists, and so much more! Check it out for yourself!
Photo: Maura Housley