How to Overcome Social Anxiety in 5 Steps
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 20, Dec 2013
The awkward moment when you’re having lunch at the mall and you drop the fork. It happened to you as well, I’m sure, but how did it feel?
- Regular happening?
It happened to me quite recently and it surely wasn’t the most pleasant moment of that day; in fact, for a few seconds, it seemed like everyone was looking at me and talking about my inability to handle a fork. Well guess what? People don’t care that much about our flaws.
I once read this theory that strangers and even friends only observe 20% of the things we’re afraid they’ll notice.
It’s not uncommon to feel embarrassed in a situation like the one mentioned above, but if you get nervous or too self-conscious on a regular basis, or whenever you have to give a speech, an interview for a job or simply go shopping and try on a few products in front of other people, you might be suffering from social anxiety.
How does social anxiety manifest?
“If you drop a fork, a man will come to visit you”, a common superstition says. I’m pretty sure it’s only a superstition, otherwise men would be really busy, at least where I live!
If you drop a fork, you’ve very likely to feel uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that you’ll tend to associate the mall or the place you were in, when dropping the fork, with the sensation of discomfort and feeling of embarrassment. The result? Quite high chances to avoid that place for a while, simply because you think people who were there on that day will also be there the next time you go shopping or eating there, and thus they’ll recognize you and remember the happening.
How is anxiety felt, physically?
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heart or chest pain
- Hot flashes
- Dizziness and shaking
People who suffer from this condition will almost always bring a friend with them when going somewhere, whether it’s a quick shopping session or a public event. Also, they’re very likely to have a drink before social exposure, to stay quiet or hide in the background when taking part in an event, or to completely avoid social activities.
Still, notice that social anxiety is not the same with shyness or with being quiet simply because you’re not familiar with a topic or don’t feel like socializing in that specific moment.
Social anxiety makes you …
… feel uncomfortable whenever you have to get social – that’s why it’s called social anxiety. Few months ago I was talking with someone and he was telling me how much easier his life would probably be if he didn’t have to interact with people on a daily basis.
- avoid people and crowded places
- stay away from relationships
- avoid large groups where you’re likely to get asked lots of question and to interact with lots of strangers
It can make you skip classes and avoid jobs, not because you’re not skilled enough, but because the thought of dealing with new people causes you lots of stress.
It’s not unusual for anxiety sufferers to feel humiliated in public, when someone makes a joke, or to get hot flashes and sweat a lot when faced with a situation that requires for social interaction. If you’re dealing with this condition, you’re very likely to fear you’ll be judged, criticized, embarrassed or scrutinized in public.
Most commonly, social anxiety is triggered by:
- Meeting new people
- Performing in front of large audiences
- Eating in public
- Holding a speech
- Attending social gatherings
- Going on a date
- Talking with important people
- Being criticized
- Making phone calls
Afraid you’ll look like a fool in public? Here’s what you can do to overcome your social anxiety.
5 steps to get rid of social anxiety
1. Face the fear
What is it that scares you the most? The fact that other people will criticize you, or make fun or say unrealistic things about you? Ok, they’ll make fun, then what? Or wait, are you absolutely sure they’ll make fun of you?
Does this sound familiar to you?
“I know I look stupid, but”
“Did I say that?”
“Then why are you saying you look stupid?”
You see, in most cases, the fear has no solid arguments in reality. Unless you’re a mind reader or fortune teller, stop assuming others will say this and think that.
2. Shift awareness
If you keep focusing on how embarrassing a situation felt, the anxiety will intensify, so instead of being so self-conscious, try to shift awareness by looking at the people around you and at the surroundings. Look at them, try to actually see the world around you. Listen to what’s being said around you, not to what your brain tells you, and stop feeling like you must talk continuously. Silence is not awkward.
3. Practice controlled breathing
When your heart starts beating faster and you begin to breathe quicker, the amount of oxygen that reaches your organs is altered, therefore dizziness, muscle cramps, chest tightness and other such symptoms are very likely to occur. Controlling your breathing can help you overcome these manifestations and cope with your social anxiety in a more efficient way.
Running is healthy but running away from all the facts and situations that make you anxious is not a solution.
On the contrary, voluntary exposing yourself to the triggers of your anxiety crisis is a lot more efficient in getting over this condition. So go ahead, visit that place you’re afraid of, when you know it will be crowded, and wait to see what happens if you don’t do your best to act like an anxiety sufferer.
Go there and practice controlled breathing, look at people and things around you, and ask yourself if there’s anything there able to harm you, objectively speaking. In lots of cases the anxiety is caused by assumed and imagined things, not by real problems.
5. Change your lifestyle
Adopt new habits and a lifestyle that’s able to fill your schedule with positive distractions, such as physical exercises, social events involving people you know and feel comfortable with, funny shows and hobbies that involve social interaction in an enjoyable context.
Social anxiety is more common than you think. 12.2% of all adults suffer from social phobia at some point in their life, but the 12-month prevalence is 6.8%, which means this is a treatable condition. So take it slowly, be patient and remember that having flaws is normal and being wrong or not knowing everything is normal as well.
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