Sweaty palms, accelerated heartbeat, and intrusive feelings of panic all underline the experience of social anxiety. And despite what you may believe, social anxiety isn’t restricted to introverts. Anyone can find themselves suffering from social anxiety.
Often, social anxiety comes down to low self-esteem and confidence and believing others will see you the way you do – unworthy.
Social anxiety is one of the most common types of anxiety, with an estimated 12% of the U.K population suffering from it at some point in their life. At its worst, it can feel debilitating and confidence breaking. It may cause you to avoid social situations and miss out on incredible opportunities.
Fear not, though, alongside recommended interventions prescribed by your GP, there are some steps you can take to help you overcome social anxiety.
How does anxiety make you feel?
The feeling of anxiety is known to be of fear, or feeling uneasy. At moments of feeling anxiety our heartbeat may increase, we may start to sweat more, the feeling of panic sets in, and we may feel tense. Effectively anxiety is when our body is in alert mode, looking for any potential danger, and resorting to our natural fight or flight response.
What are symptoms of anxiety?
Above we briefly discussed how anxiety might make you feel, but there are a number of symptoms you may experience when feeling anxious:
- Body feeling tense
- A feeling of panic or dread
- Increased heart rate
- Increased sweating
- Body twitches and unable to keep still
- Feeling lethargic.
- Breathing increases and potential hyperventilation occurs
- Decrease focus and being able to think clearly.
- Poor sleep or insomnia
- Change in bodily functions such as increase in gas, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Actively avoiding triggers that would cause anxiety
- Potential increase in OCD behaviour
Focus on the here and now
Anxiety can be seen as “living in the future”. This is because we spend so much time worrying about what might happen later that we forget to live in the present moment. That is why it is vital to practice forms of mindfulness that allow you to stay grounded in the present.
For you, this may look like listening to music, taking a mindful walk, listening to a podcast, taking a bath or doing a guided mediation on an app like headspace.
Stop assuming other people’s thoughts
In psychology, this is known as “fortune-telling”. You think you know what other people will think of you, so you assume people will not like you.
This is because you are projecting your negative self-image onto others and assuming others will see yourself as you do.
So next time your social anxiety rears its ugly head, remind it that you have no idea what anyone is thinking, and it is unlikely people are judging you.
Learn to value your opinion of yourself over others
What you think of yourself is a million times more important than anyone else’s opinion.
Why? - Because people come and go, but you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.
And I promise you, for all the shortcomings you think you have, you have a million more aspects of who you are that are amazing and worth celebrating. It’s up to you to discover them and focus on them.
But also, it is essential not only to not worry about negative opinions but also not worry about positive ones. Good or bad, the opinions of others have no bearing on your ability to survive or change who you are as a person.
And if you are asking why you shouldn’t worry about positive opinions, it’s simple. Your brain is pretty simplistic when it comes to good and bad. So if you care when something is good, then the law of balance means your brain will care about the bad too.
What this means for your social anxiety is that by putting any weight on other people’s opinions of you, you automatically place more value on their opinion of you than your own. And this will help feed your social anxiety.
You’re amazing because YOU are amazing, not because someone tells you that you are. Never forget that.
If part of your social anxiety includes feeling awkward by not knowing what to say, come prepared with some simple conversation starters you can use.
This way, when there is an uncomfortable silence, you don’t need to stand worrying about how to fill it. Instead, you are prepared with things you can ask.
Say yes to new experiences
Diving headfirst into a new experience is a great way to overcome your social anxiety. You’ll be too busy thinking about the task at hand to worry about what those around you are thinking or doing.
You’ll also learn that you are capable of more than you think which will improve your self-confidence. This, in turn, will positively affect your social anxiety.
There’s no perfect place to begin, so next time an opportunity presents itself, say yes and wave the rides of uncertainty.
Do it scared
Often, we think a magical moment will occur in our lives that stops anxiety in its tracks. Not so, I’m afraid. The truth is that overcoming any anxiety, not just social, requires getting comfortable with discomfort.
The more you expose yourself to discomfort, the more you build resilience to it, and the less it starts affecting you.
So, if you are scared and ready to vomit before a social event the first ten times, that’s ok. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to be present with your fear. You’ll find that eventually, the fear becomes a little less each time as your brain is reminded that as scared as you feel right now, you are strong enough to survive it, reducing the perceived threat.
Try taking a class
A great way to overcome social anxiety is to enrol in a class for something you enjoy. It could be pottery, cooking, dance… whatever takes your interest.
Being in a place with strangers who have shared interests and focus on improving a skill is an excellent way to help you get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Plus, you already have something in common to talk about, so half the leg work is already done for you!
You don’t have to do it alone
If it helps you participate in more social events having a friend present, then start by doing that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking friends and family for support while you try to make positive changes to overcome your anxiety.
Once you get fully comfortable in situations that cause you social anxiety with a friend present, you can work on facing them by yourself, even if only for five minutes at a time. All progress is progress.
Social anxiety is highly uncomfortable, and it can be limiting. But when you learn to step outside your comfort zone and embrace the discomfort, you gain a sense of self-confidence that outweighs your brains attempts to trick you that you are unworthy.
So, go out there and show your social anxiety whose boss, one step at a time!